AUSTRALIAN dental experts have called for all soft drinks to carry warning labels declaring the risk of tooth decay.
The call, backed by new research from the University of Adelaide and supported by Australia's peak dental bodies, comes after a new study revealed some Australian children were consuming three or more sugared drinks a day.
The study, published this month in the American Journal of Public Health, also found tooth decay and cavities were ''significantly associated with greater sugar-sweetened beverage consumption''.
It found 56 per cent of Australian children aged five to 16 consumed at last one sugared drink a day and that 13 per cent consumed three or more sugared drinks a day.
The number of decayed, missing and filled baby teeth was 46 per cent higher among children who consumed three or more sweet drinks a day, compared with children who did not consume any.
''Consistent evidence has shown that high acidity of many sweetened drinks, particularly soft drinks and sports drinks, can be a factor in dental erosion, as well as the sugar itself contributing to tooth decay,'' says the lead author of the study, Dr Jason Armfield, from the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health at the University of Adelaide.
He said: ''If health authorities decide that warnings are needed for sweet drinks, the risk to dental health should be included.''
The calls were backed by the Australian Dental Association and the Australian Dental and Oral Health Therapists' Association. ''I think the profession as a whole would support any labelling that would highlight the risk of tooth decay from soft drinks and beverages that contain high sugar content and are acidic,'' said ADA Victorian branch president Dr Gordon Burt.
''Certainly the message doesn't seem to be disseminating through the population as much as we'd like it to now.''
The National Health and Medical Research Council is due to update its dietary guidelines in February. They are expected to include recommendations to ''limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars … In particular, limit sugar-sweetened drinks.'' The guidelines currently advise consumers to ''moderate'' intake.
Australian Beverages Council chief executive Geoff Parker described health warnings on soft drinks, including the risk of tooth decay, as ''way over the top''.
''Teaching kids from early on about good dental hygiene practice is important. But singling out one particular part of the diet is a misguided approach to dealing with an issue such as dental hygiene,'' he said.
On Wednesday, fast-food chain McDonald's drew criticism from health groups when it held a one-day promotion in which customers could purchase frozen Coke with Monopoly money.
''If McDonald's chooses to carry out these sort of promotions, it would be so much better if they included their healthier product choices like bottled water or fruit bags,'' said Craig Sinclair, director of the Cancer Prevention Centre at the Cancer Council.
''One medium frozen Coke from McDonald's contains around 10 teaspoons of sugar,'' he said.
Earlier this month, the Cancer Council joined forces with Diabetes Australia and the National Heart Foundation of Australia in a campaign to tackle soft drink over-consumption which it says is a key contributor to obesity in Australia.