Sugar costs the NHS dental budget £1.25 billion per year
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Published On:09-04-2014 by

The nation’s sweet tooth has created a need for dentistry which has only been around since sugar became cheap and plentiful in the mid 1800s. The nation’s sweet tooth has caused it some serious problems and we do appear to be willing to address the issues but the sugar manufacturers have a huge investment in the growing and production of their product and if the tide is moving against overt sugar content the industry is going to find ways to hide its products to keep our national addiction to sugar alive. Hence many ‘low fat’ products have been found to have a high sugar content. Cigarette manufacturers are not the only ones guilty of playing with people’s health.


How much does sugar cost NHS dentistry each year?


The NHS is spending £1.25 billion each year cleaning up the damage caused in our mouths by sugar. This accounts for 33% of its annual dental budget and does not include the cost of obesity, diabetes and other health complications caused by the consumption of excess amounts of sugar. This does not include fees paid by patients for private and NHS treatment which would more than double the total amount spent.



Low fat foods can contain up to five times as much sugar


A recent study by the Telegraph showed that low fat foods can contain up to five times as much sugar as their full fat equivalents. They made the following findings:


• One “low fat” meal contained almost six times the sugar levels of its “full fat” equivalent dish
• A “fat-free” drinking yoghurt was found to contain almost as much sugar as a Mars Bar
• A single portion of a “healthy living” apple and blackberry crumble contained five-and-a-half teaspoons of sugar
• A one litre carton of a “low fat” chocolate milk drink contained more than 30 teaspoons of sugar, around two thirds of which is estimated to be added


See a list of the sugar content of some of the most popular health foods here.


Experts said the Telegraph’s findings showed how “low fat” and “low calorie” products could often have more harmful effects on health than their “full fat” equivalents and are blaming rising levels of obesity on increased consumption of sugar. Sugar is also one of the main contributors to dental diseases and it is estimated to cost the NHS over £1.25bn* each year in dentistry fees each year.



Experts are starting to focus on the problem


Periodontal specialist Dr Rana Al-Falaki had the following to say. “Sugar leads to tooth decay – fixing which requires fissure sealants, simple fillings, root canal treatments, and in some cases extractions. With this in mind, we estimate that sugar costs the government at least over £1.25bn in outpatient (dental) fees annually alone, and that’s only if you are considering the direct effect of sugar on the dental care budget and ignoring the NHS costs on diabetes and heart disease.”


“Sugar also leads to plaque build-up, which is the main factor in the aetiology of periodontal (gum). Periodontal disease is the major cause of tooth loss, and has strong links to diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. Of course diabetes and sugar have their own direct connections, but oral health is a known contributor too.”


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently reduced its recommended daily sugar intake from 10% to 5% of a person’s daily sugar intake. This equates to around 6 teaspoons of sugar for an adult with normal body mass index.


In the UK, Action on Sugar is a recently founded group of medical specialists whose aim is to increase public awareness of the dangers of sugar. Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist and science director of Action on Sugar, a campaign group, said the findings showed some low fat foods were “loaded with sugar” despite purporting to be healthy. He suggested manufacturers added to the risk of chronic diseases by “misleading” shoppers over the ingredients of such products.


Here are some other alarming stats about the cost of sugar on NHS dentistry:


• The NHS spends 12% of its primary care budget or £3.7bn each year on dentistry.
• The third most common reason for a child occupying a hospital bed in 2006/07 was rotten teeth. This was a 13% increase over 2001/02 when tooth decay did not even feature in the five most frequent reasons for admission.
• In Scotland in 2009/10, For children aged 14 years and under, the most common main diagnosis groupings for elective inpatient and day case admissions was ‘diseases of the digestive system’ (24.7%) – mainly attributable to dental caries. That year ‘extraction of tooth’ accounted for 21.1% of the total planned of the elective in patient and day case procedures.


* We would like to thank Dr Rana Al-Falaki and Dr John Renshaw for reviewing and contributing to this post. All statistics are taken from HSCIC published data. We have taken the total number of courses of treatments including endodontics, fillings, sealant restorations and extractions in 2012/13 and converted these to UDAs. We have taken the average payment per UDA to be £25.


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