Go with the flow - why water is the elixir of life (and dental health)

There's a lot of talk about sugary drinks in the media of late, with a big focus on demands for a sugar tax with celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, at the forefront of this campaign. Looking at the evidence, this fiscal approach is a valid one - it's worked to reduce smoking and alcohol intake in the UK - and would, hopefully, have an impact on the child obesity and tooth decay figures that remain (in some regions of the UK) at alarming levels. But, there is seemingly some resistance to targeting fizzy drinks in a similar way.

Whilst we await developments, it's interesting to note that, in the US, they've tackled the 'epidemics' from a very different angle. A campaign - launched by First Lady, Michelle Obama, a while back - set about promoting drinking water (tap and bottled). In just 18 months, it resulted in a 3% increase in water consumption among target groups and an 11% shift from sugary drinks to water. In a nutshell, the media campaign successfully boosted water consumption across the population, with many households embracing the health messages and benefits.

Scarily, this week, a poll, of 2,000 adults, found 16% believe they can count an alcoholic drink as one of their recommended eight glasses of water! More than one in five also admitted they have no idea how much water they should be drinking. Water is often considered the elixir of life - after all, you are what you drink. Current guidelines suggest we should all down at least eight cups (or two litres of water) per day for optimal health benefits. Interestingly, only 42% in this recent survey were aware that around two litres - or eight glasses - is the recommended amount. This poll also found that one in five Brits can often go eight hours or more between having a drink of water, with more than one in five disliking the taste of water!

Our body is nearly two-thirds water so it is really important we consume enough fluid to stay hydrated and healthy. The amount we need is also weather-dependant, of course, and the degree to which we exercise can have an influence, too. But, without enough H2O, we can feel lethargic, may suffer headaches and will definitely struggle to perform at our very best - cognitively and physically. This essential healthy 'fluid' includes not only water from the tap or the bottle, but may also come from other drinks such as tea, coffee, milk, fruit juices and soft drinks. We also get water from the food we eat. Did you know, on average, food provides about 20% of your total fluid intake and accounts for about 60% of our body weight? However, do be aware, the best way to top up on water is always by drinking water! It delivers what's needed without the added calories and without potentially damaging teeth.

Protection


Water also protects our mouths and, if we don't have enough of it, can lead to tooth decay. Dental therapist Amanda Gallie explains: 'Tooth decay (sometimes referred to as dental caries) is caused by exposure to sugars. Bacteria forms a layer called plaque on the surface of teeth that, if not monitored, can lead to the production of mouth acids that may soften enamel and dentine and, subsequently, lead to cavities - or holes in our teeth.

'However, it's an easy fix. We naturally have a powerful defence against such process - and it's our saliva. It is made up of around 99% water so, therefore, drinking water is key to its production. Saliva contains important elements such as bicarbonate, calcium, and phosphate that not only neutralise those aggressive plaque acids, but also helps to repair early tooth damage and decay.

'Also, some drugs that we regularly take can have an impact on our ability to produce saliva and it is important to be aware of the side effects. Dehydration can have a significant impact on our health, not just dentally but throughout the body as well. Chewing is a good way to stimulate saliva, which not only provides disease-fighting substances in the mouth to help prevent cavities and other infections, but also washes away food and debris from teeth and gums. I always recommend that patients drink more water to stimulate saliva flow and often advise they chew sugarfree gum, too. Put simply, plain, still water is the best drink for teeth.'

Crystal clear tips

· Drinking water is the healthiest way to hydrate - it's sugarfree, too!

· Encourage children to drink water from an early age to get them into the healthy habit

· Elderly people sometimes take medication that cause dry mouth. They also have a tendency to have reduced saliva production so drink water regularly

· Teeth should be brushed regularly last thing at night and at least one other occasion in the day, with a fluoride toothpaste

· Night-time teeth brushing is especially important as saliva production slows down through the night

· Rinsing the mouth with water in between meals may help to remove food debris that could otherwise contribute to dental decay.

For more, visit www.naturalhydrationcouncil.org.uk.