Dental surgeons urge schools to go sugar-free

Friday, August 16, 2019

Dental surgeons believe that making all schools in England sugar-free would help tackle 'worrying' levels of child tooth decay.

The Faculty of Dental Surgery (FDS) at the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) wants the Government to encourage schools across the country to follow in the footsteps of those in London that have already adopted a sugar-free approach.

According to new analysis of NHS figures by the FDS, over a three-year period, there were more than 100,000 hospital admissions for children under the age of ten due to tooth decay.

The call for all schools in England to become sugar-free is just one recommendation made by the FDS in a position statement published yesterday as an update to its 2015 report into children’s oral health.

The statement also urges the Government to implement the expansion of supervised toothbrushing programmes to nurseries and schools in England - a commitment in its Prevention Green Paper, as soon as possible – ideally before 2022 so more children at risk of decay can benefit.

The Prevention Green Paper indicated that the Government planned to consult in 2020 on proposals that would enable it to reach the most deprived three-to-five-year-olds across the country, with the objective of reaching 30 per cent of these children by 2022.

The FDS also recommends:

  • The introduction of a national public health campaign highlighting that all children should see a dentist at least once a year.
  • For the Government to follow through on its commitment in the Prevention Green Paper to extend the soft drinks levy to include sugary dairy drinks. Some of the revenue raised through the levy should be used to fund oral health improvement programmes.
  • Action to reduce the sugar content of commercial baby foods.
  • No further cuts to local authority public health budgets.


Professor Michael Escudier, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said, ‘It is incredibly worrying that levels of tooth decay among children in England remain so high – especially when you consider that it is almost entirely preventable through simple steps such as brushing twice a day with appropriate strength fluoride toothpaste, visiting the dentist regularly and reducing sugar consumption.

‘The FDS believes that limiting the availability of surgery foods and drinks in schools is essential to reducing the amount of sugar our children consume. While the Government has committed to reviewing school food standards, we would like to see them go beyond this to encourage all schools in England to become sugar free. We would also support the publication of nutritional guidelines for packed lunches.

‘Since we launched our report in 2015, we have seen the state of children’s teeth improve in parts of England but worryingly, inequalities persist in different areas of the country. We know that children living in the most deprived parts of England are much more likely to experience tooth decay than those in the most affluent. There’s a real opportunity to build on the progress that has already been made and stamp out these inequalities, so that all children in England can benefit from good oral health.’

The Liberal Democrats said they were in support of all schools becoming sugar-free.

The political party’s health spokesperson Judith Jolly said, ‘The dental problems being experienced by children are preventable and yet the Tories are failing to prevent them. Instead Boris Johnson has suggested reversing the sugar tax.
‘Liberal Democrats demand better. In July, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran introduced a Bill that would restrict the serving of foods high in fat, salt or sugar in schools and to require all school meals to be free of added sugar by 2022.

‘Much more needs to be done to improve the health of children across the UK. It is the responsibility of grown-ups, not children, to give everyone the healthiest start in life.

‘With a bit more encouragement and support, it would not be difficult for schools to change out fizzy drinks for water, or bananas instead of biscuits. With healthier diets, exam results will improve, tooth decay will decline and slowly but surely, we will secure a healthier future for our entire community.’ 

Government response

A Department for Education spokesperson said, ‘By law, schools must provide pupils with a nutritious school meal and restrict foods high in sugar from being served as part of school lunch options. This includes a ban on drinks with added sugar, chocolate or sweets in school meals and vending machines. 

‘Additionally we are in the process of updating these standards to further reduce the sugar content of school meals.’

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