Young people at risk

July 28, 2011
New figures released suggest 11- to 15-year-olds put their oral health at risk by smoking and drinking.

According to research undertaken by the NHS Information Centre, nearly one in two (45%) of 11- to 15-year-olds have consumed alcohol while more than one in four (27%) admitted to smoking. This is a figure that is higher than the number of adults who smoke (21%).

More than half (55%) of respondents deemed it acceptable to try alcohol. Also, more than a third (35%) said the same thing about smoking.

Although the publication of these figures represent an improvement in the last 10 years, the UK’s independent oral health charity--the British Dental Health Foundation--believes they still show cause for concern.

Chief executive of the foundation, Dr. Nigel Carter, issued a warning to parents and children who put their oral health at risk.

Dr. Carter said: “If you smoke, you are at a higher risk of developing gum disease, the most common cause of tooth loss in adults. Smoking and alcohol are also the two predominant causes of mouth cancer, and when combined they increase the risk of getting the disease by up to 30 times.

These figures are clearly a cause for concern, as guidelines suggest men should not consume more than 21 units a week and women no more than 14 units a week. The survey reveals the average for this age group was 12.9 units. So even if they if were adults, they are approaching unhealthy levels," he added.

“Drinking alcohol, particularly to excess, can increase the risk of mouth cancer by four times," Dr. Carter added. "The UK has a problem with binge drinking, and from an oral health point of view, more must be done to educate this age range on the dangers that poses.”

His concerns about the high number of drinkers is reflected in the figures on smokers, particularly as tobacco use and drinking accounts for approximately three in every four cases of mouth cancer.

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Dr. Carter said: “It is encouraging to see the level of smokers fall, but from an oral health point of view, it is clear we still have some way to go in order to eradicate habits detrimental to oral hygiene.

“In the UK, 21% of the population currently smoke, and it is alarming to see that figure substantially higher among such a young age group. Even if they were adults, it is still a very high figure," he added.

“It is also worrying to see a higher number of young men and women who deem it acceptable to try smoking," Dr. Carter continued. "The risks of smoking have been well documented for several years, yet these figures suggest the message isn’t getting through. It can lead to many oral health problems such as tooth staining, gum disease, tooth loss, and in severe cases, mouth cancer.”

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