Health campaigners have called for new advice recommending sugar consumption of just four teaspoons a day - less than draft World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines - to cut tooth decay.
Two advisers to the campaign group Action on Sugar (AoS) say sugar intake should be less than 3% of energy intake, in a paper published in the journal Public Health Nutrition.
Draft guidance published by the WHO earlier this year advises a dramatic reduction in sugar consumption to help avoid mounting health problems including obesity and tooth decay.
The WHO is proposing to retain its current formal recommendation that no more than 10% of an individual’s calories should come from sugar - the equivalent of 12 teaspoons a day for the average adult.
But its draft guidelines state that a further reduction to 5% “would have additional benefits”.
The lower limit amounts to around six teaspoons.
AoS said sugars were the most important dietary factor in the development of dental decay, and treating dental decay accounted for 6% to 10% of total health costs in industrialised countries.
Action on Sugar campaign director Katharine Jenner said: “Added sugars are completely unnecessary in our diets and are strongly linked to dental decay as well as to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
“We urge the WHO and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) in the UK to take this evidence on board.”
Professor Aubrey Sheiham, emeritus professor of dental public health at University College London and co-author of the study, said: “The recommendation that sugar intake should be less than 10% of energy intake is no longer acceptable.
“Nutrition advice on sugar needs to be renewed now. Added sugar intake should be at least less than 5% of energy intake.
“Tooth decay is one of the most widespread health problems and it is thought around a third of UK children aged 12 have visible tooth decay.
“Added sugar has found its way into almost all food, and the use of sugar as a means to calm, entertain or reward children has become normalised, where as sugar should be an occasional treat.
“The government must stop acting in the best interests of the food and drink industry rather than individuals, and take action on sugar now.”