I recently took my daughter to visit the dentist and we got talking. She asked me how much juice Miss 5 drinks and I mentioned it’s a rare event- maybe once a fortnight tops. She asked as well about other drinks and sugary foods and she was quite impressed with my answers, because we don’t really have that many sugary things in our diets. The correlation between sugar, kids and teeth is really important! I’ll just mention here, this post is not sponsored, this is the actual dentist who I see with my daughter. She was generous enough to write this post to help educate us all about how we can avoid dental decay in our kids.
We visit St George Paediatric Dental Specialists and love I the fact that kids are made to feel really comfortable in the environment and that it is completely child friendly. So I’m handing over to Dr Susan Hsieh to tell give you everything you need to know about sugar and your child’s teeth, because as I’ve discovered, sugar is such a key factor non only for your child’s health, but also for their teeth.
As a Mum of 2 curious toddlers, I am finding it more challenging to keep sugar-laden snacks and drinks out of their reach, particularly at birthday parties. I persevere for 2 reasons: a) dental decay is common (50% of all 6 year-olds in Australia have decay); b) and as a paediatric dentist, I regularly see the pain and infection it can cause in children.
How does sugar cause decay?
Each one of us houses an entire eco-system of oral bacteria, many of which are associated with dental decay. Children first acquire these “decay-causing” bacteria usually from their primary carers. These bacteria can only cause decay when they are allowed to thrive in ideal conditions for a sufficient period of time.
Refined sugars give decay-causing bacteria the energy to produce acids that dissolve teeth. These bacteria become established as plaque (white stuff) on the tooth surface, which can then dissolve to form a cavity (hole). The breakdown can be really fast if the teeth have already been compromised by developmental defects usually associated with illness early in life or nutritional deficiencies during pregnancy.
Soft drinks, juices and sports drinks are major culprits in causing dental decay because they directly dissolve teeth and provide food (sugars) and fuel (acids) for bacteria to thrive. In fact, research shows that children age 2 to 10 years with diets high in soft drinks had significantly higher rates of baby tooth decay.
How do I prevent decay in my child?
Teeth need a break from acid attacks, which can occur after every meal. Ideally, snacking between meals should be limited to 3 times a day, and preferably on nutritious foods such as cheese, vegetables, yoghurt, and nuts. Decay-causing bacteria can use sugars or starches from about 90% of all foods to produce acids that dissolve teeth. These acid attacks, lasting 20 minutes or more, can be prolonged when:
- There is frequent intake of food or drinks containing sugar
- Toothbrushing is irregular or not effective
- Saliva flow is reduced e.g. during sleep or exercise, with certain medications or illnesses.
Tooth-friendly drinks such as water or milk are preferable to sweetened beverages such as cordial, juice or soft drinks. Tap water in Sydney contains optimal amounts of fluoride, which protects and strengthens teeth. Fluoride levels are not altered by boiling tap water, but it can be removed by some water filter systems, so it is worth checking.
The occasional sugar hit is not going to cause decay as long as effective tooth-brushing is being done twice a day with toothpaste that contains fluoride. However, parents need to be extra vigilant by limiting the frequency of sugar hits and ensuring regular tooth-brushing if their children are still young or anxious (i.e. unlikely to cooperate for dental treatment) or have been affected by dental defects.
Tomorrow I’ll be showing you an awesome way to flavour water for kids who are “bored” by the taste!