Nothing beats water when it comes to keeping teeth healthy. But while licensed restaurants in the United Kingdom are required to provide tap water for free, many establishments only offer it upon request. Many diners order sugary sodas and other sweet beverages instead, adding to their risk of both obesity and tooth decay.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils that are responsible for public health, says that tap water should be more freely available. It is encouraging restaurants to actively offer tap water as an alternative beverage, since only one in every 5 people know that restaurants have to provide it by law.
“Beverages, including soft drinks, fruit juices, and alcohol, are now the number one source of dietary sugars for all age groups in Britain,” said Russ Ladwa, chair of the British Dental Association’s health and science committee.
The issue is acute in the United Kingdom, where half of all 8-year-olds have visible signs of tooth decay, reports the Oral Health Foundation. Also, 26,000 children were admitted to hospitals because of their tooth decay last year, with extractions costing the National Health Service around £30 million (about $43.6 million) each year.
“Offering tap water is a simple way the restaurant industry can play its part on turning the tide on tooth decay and obesity,” Ladwa said. “Diners deserve a choice, but shouldn’t feel they have to ask for the one option that doesn’t come bundled with sugars, acids, or calories.”
According to the LGA, 8 out of 10 people usually drink tap water at home, but only a third do so while dining out. Also, 15% of those who drink tap water at home never think of asking for it when they’re at cafes or restaurants, and 13% said asking for it made them feel awkward.
“While most restaurants will happily provide a glass of tap water on request, we’re saying it shouldn’t be something you have to ask for,” said Izzi Seccombe, a spokeswoman for LGA Community Wellbeing. “Some people may be too embarrassed or find it awkward to ask for tap water. Others may simply forget it’s an option.”