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25 Nov 2016 | Press Release

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A sweet move: Leading oral health professional association applauds discussion on sugary drink tax

Government policies and funding

Recent calls for urgent government action to curb obesity in Australia by placing a tax on sugary drinks have been met with applause from Australia's leading oral health professional association.

Following a position paper released by Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) and a recently published report by the Grattan Institute dealing with the rapid rise in obesity amongst the Australian population, the Australian Dental and Oral Health Therapists' Association (ADOHTA) is welcoming the calls from both groups for the Australian Government to look at developing and funding evidence‑based measures aimed at reducing consumption of sugary drinks.

"We applaud the position paper released by AHHA this week at the National Primary Health Care Conference in Melbourne and believe that a collaborative approach between Governments and organisations like ours need to be considered to tackle this issue."

ADOHTA President Ms Hellene Platell says that while reports of a sugary drink tax leading to reductions in consumption rates amongst the general population would be extremely beneficial to public health, it is what is done with the funds collected from the tax should be redirect towards the health and wellbeing of all Australians. Recent research has shown that high frequency of drinks soft drinks is implicated with significant worsening of tooth decay for children as young as 3 years old, and younger people and those on low incomes are the most likely to receive the largest health and economic benefit.

"ADOHTA supports the AHHA's advice to funnel any revenue raised by a potential sugar tax to fund preventative health measures. We believe that anything that can be done to support increased health funding at all levels should be explored.

"Our organisation represents qualified oral health professionals (OHPs) which includes Dental Therapists, Oral Health Therapists and Dental Hygienists. Our line of work focuses on the preventive side of oral health for all Australians, in particular, children who are known to love a soft drink or two. We see daily the impact high sugar intakes are having on children and adolescents, sometimes with irreversible consequences for their teeth leading into adult life."

Ms Platell says that whilst sugary drinks are one of the biggest contributors to weight gain amongst the Australian population, they also have a huge impact on the oral health of Australians, both young and old.

"Not only do sugary-drinks contribute immensely to undermining the health and wellbeing of the population, the combined impact of consuming these drinks and the deteriorating oral health of Australians cannot be ignored. We are seeing more children with high levels of tooth decay and rates have increased over the past 20 years; sugary drinks are a big part of the picture."

Ms Platell says some of the figures and trends regarding Australian's oral health are astounding.

"3 out of every 10 Australians live with untreated tooth decay, if plaque isn't removed every day, it can turn the sugars found in most foods and drinks into acids that lead to decay."

"Whilst your oral health depends on many factors, reducing your sugar intake and having a good daily oral health routine are certainly key factors in ensuring the healthiest mouth possible."

Ms Platell believes that better utilisation of the OHP workforce is vital to addressing preventive oral health issues which are currently plaguing the Australian population.

"For over 10 years our organisation has been calling for the better use and recognition of the OHP workforce, which could potentially have huge implications for savings at the Commonwealth, State and Territory levels."

"Unlike other allied health professionals in primary care, OHPs must still work in a structured relationship with a dentist. These changes have allowed primary oral health providers to move into private practice, but do not on their own allow the full benefit to the system and individuals to be realised. The standard is to be reviewed in 2017." says Ms Platell.

Ms Platell says Australia has invested in building the capacity of OHPs by advancing their training and education and, since 2010, registering them nationally through the Australian Health Professionals Registration Agency.

"We believe that through changed regulation of our members' scope practice, OHPs can be supported to work in ways that make a greater contribution to improving the oral and general health of Australians, both in our cities and in rural, regional and remote areas."

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