Tens of thousands of young children are suffering from rotting teeth caused by drinking fruit juice and squash, a major study has revealed.
As many as one in eight children have suffered tooth decay by the age of three – although in some parts of England the rates are as high as a third.
Senior dentists say the problem is often caused by well-meaning parents giving toddlers sugar-laden drinks in bottles and beakers. They are now urging families to restrict children to milk and water.
Middle-class parents who buy expensive organic juices in the belief they are healthier have been warned they can contain as much sugar as a glass of coke.
One health official observed: ‘Posh sugar is no better than any other sugar.’
Earlier this year health officials urged the public to cut their sugar intake to between five and seven teaspoons a day to prevent rising levels of obesity and rotting teeth.
A 200ml glass of organic apple juice contains 20 grams of sugar – nearly five teaspoons – only slightly less than the same amount of coke, which has 22 grams.
Experts, including the chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies, have called for a tax to be slapped on sugary drinks to deter the public from buying them.
In the first study of its kind, officials at Public Health England – a Government agency – examined the teeth of a sample of 53,640 three-year-olds at nursery schools.
They found an average of 12 per cent – one in eight – had tooth decay ranging from small holes, needing fillings or having teeth extracted.
Many parents give children fruit juice or squash in bottles and beakers to comfort them or before bed. They may suck them for hours on end – with the sugar slowly eroding their teeth. Officials say if children must have juice it should be from a cup which is drunk quickly, causing minimal harm to their teeth.
Although the decay affects children’s milk teeth, which fall out naturally, experts say it also harms their gums making them more prone to infection in adulthood.