Would a smoking ban and fruit juice tax improve oral health?

After George Osborne called for a smoking ban and to extend the sugar tax to fruit juices, dental professionals consider the impact this would have.

George Osborne has called for a smoking ban and to extend the sugar tax to fruit juices. But what does the dental profession think?

Lauren Long, dental therapist

Ex-chancellor, George Osborne, has called for the current government to extend the sugar tax to more products and aim to ban smoking completely.

Although the sugar tax was only introduced five years ago, early figures show that consumption of sugar-heavy drinks have decreased during this time. However, there is evidence that the public may still be consuming the same or more sugar overall.

Therefore, it is likely that a more multifaceted approach is needed to tackle the issue. As a profession, I feel our role is not to demonise sugar, but to educate our patients on how frequent consumption may impact their mouth, enabling them to make their own choices to support their oral health.

Often, patients are not aware of the effects their habits can have on their teeth, gums and soft tissues. I have treated many smokers who had no idea that their periodontal disease had any relation to their smoking habit. Again, I feel education and support are key here.

The dental profession have a huge role to play in informing patients how their smoking may be impacting them, or may do so in the future. For many, this is enough to make them think twice about continuing, and successfully quit.

A complete ban does nothing to educate and may just lead to people continuing illegally.

Michael Heffernan, specialist prosthodontist

I must commend George Osborne for his recommendations of fundamental changes to the health policy in the UK – nudging us to cut down on sugar and banning smoking.

Approximately 76,000 people in the UK die per year from smoking related disease and 24,000 per year die from type 2 diabetes, often related to diet.

Since George Osborne left his post in the leadership of the UK, making the decisions on our health and wealth, seven years ago, approximately 700,000 people have lost their lives due to the tobacco industry and sugar lobbies.

This impacts individuals, family and country. I’d hope political parties would make real manifesto pledges to help people cut down on sugar in smoothies, fruit juice, confectionery and breakfast cereals – all so innocently claiming health, but mostly packed with free sugars.

Following the New Zealand approach of effectively banning smoking is an obvious decision. As we step towards the next election, let’s ask each party what they will actually do.

Gemma O’Callaghan, dental hygienist

While I can understand the sentiment behind George Osborne’s recent statements about tackling smoking and obesity, progression in this area needs to be backed with funding for patient education.

Yes, without intervention, the government target of getting the adult smoking rate down to 5% or under in England by 2030 is going to be missed. Smoking and health costs the NHS £2.4 billion and a further £1.2 billion for social care.

But tackling patient responsibility for their own preventable diseases needs to be at the forefront of any proposed changes in the legality of smoking or changes in the sugar tax.

For many, their only source of their ‘five a day’ will come from a glass of orange juice. Let’s think about prioritising our health messages before imposing more taxes on an already financially stretched and weakened society.

Zuzanna Sadura, dental therapist

Smoking has been by far the hardest habit to quit. Giving verbal smoking cessation to my patients doesn’t feel enough or strong enough.

Yet smoking is one of main risk factors for periodontal disease. The disease is preventable, but not curable.

It causes very serious, irreversible damage to the bone. As a result of that gum recession, it creates longer looking teeth, bigger gaps, and traps food. These are all very undesirable changes to the aesthetics of people’s smiles.

This, in turn, impacts on people confidence and self esteem.

Emma Greene, dental therapist

Further action on banning smoking will help reduce oral cancer and gum disease. However, we are seeing a large rise in vaping, particularly in teenagers.

This needs to be addressed, as new evidence shows a link between vaping and oral diseases. This includes cancer, gum disease and decay.

The sugar tax being extended to fruit juices educates the public. Yes, fruit juice contains lots of healthy vitamins, but it’s also free sugar and acid which will dissolve enamel (erosion) and increase the risk of decay.

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