Three in four Irish children have experienced tooth decay by the time they reach the age of 15, dentists have warned.
They are calling on the Minister for Health, Mary Harney, to introduce public health warning labels for fizzy drinks in an attempt to combat this problem.
They say that the warning could be similar to the health warning which is currently carried on tobacco products. This would increase public awareness of the negative impact these products have on oral and general health.
According to Dr Billy Davis, the incoming president of the Irish Dental Association, Ireland currently has one of the highest per capita soft drink consumption rates in the western world, at over 100 litres per capita per annum. This is equivalent to the consumption of at least one 330ml can per day.
This consumption has risen every year since the 1980s.
"The health warning system has really worked well for tobacco and alcohol products and it is time for similar warnings to be placed on food and drink products so that consumers can make a fully informed choice. We really need to move urgently on this issue," Dr Davis insisted.
The call for pubic heath warnings was made in a motion at the IDA annual conference, which is taking place in Galway this weekend. Dentists are also calling on Minister Harney to introduce legislation which would ensure that the sugar content of food and drinks is highlighted.
The IDA pointed out that by the age of 15, 75% of Irish children have experienced tooth decay. This makes it the most chronic condition young people experience in this country. Research indicates that it is children from more deprived backgrounds who have a higher risk of decay.
"Unfortunately it is the people who are most vulnerable to tooth decay who are being deprived dental health check-ups and treatments by the HSE's demolition of the medical card scheme. Clearly funding is in short supply so a pro-active and cost efficient way of encouraging better dental health - such as a warning and labelling system - makes perfect sense and the government should introduce it without delay," Dr Davis explained.
The IDA conference is also set to discuss several motions condemning the cutbacks to the PRSI and medical card dental schemes.