Two-year-olds lose teeth to sugary drinks

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Thousands of children as young as two are losing their milk teeth because they suck on bottles filled with sugary drinks, dentists said yesterday.

Thousands of children as young as two are losing their milk teeth because they suck on bottles filled with sugary drinks, dentists said yesterday. The decay is so bad that some have had all their teeth removed by the age of five. Severe damage to milk teeth can affect the development of adult ones.

In Glasgow, an audit found 2,000 children a year aged five or under were having multiple extractions at the city's dental hospital. On average, between seven and eight teeth were removed from each child.

In Sheffield, dentists at the children's hospital said they extracted all the teeth from an average of one child every week. A further 24 children a week, on average, had six teeth removed. David McCall, consultant in dental public health in Glasgow, said: "It is a large number of children, [who] need a general anaesthetic before teeth are removed for what is a preventable disease.''

The damage is caused by sugary, sticky foods which cling to the teeth, frequent snacking, which increases the amount of time acids are in contact with teeth, and the use of sweet drinks in babies' bottles.

A survey for BBC Radio 4's Today programme found rates of decay were worst in Scotland, north-west England and Wales. Dentists said the belief that decay in milk teeth did not matter because they would fall out anyway was a myth.

Hilary Whitehead, of the East Lancashire Community Dental Service, said she was shocked to have to treat two two-year-olds with serious dental problems on the same day. She said they had not been properly weaned and were still mainly fed by bottle, so they were small for their age. "They were tiny, just like babies. One had about eight teeth out and the other had six [removed]. They had come to the clinics because they were in pain; they were suffering. I really feel it is child abuse."

The British Dental Association backs fluoridation of water to prevent decay. In a survey of five-year-old children last year, those with the most decayed teeth lived in non-fluoridated areas. The survey showed decay was three times higher in Manchester, where the water is not fluoridated, than in Birmingham, where it is.

Professor Liz Kay, chair of the British Dental Association's health and science committee, said: "Sadly, even the simplest messages are not getting through. Putting sugary drinks into babies' bottles and teething cups may placate them in the short term but it stores up tears in the long term as children's teeth become decayed and painful."

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