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What is that sugar doing to your child's teeth?

Kids teeth image.jpg

There’s more to looking after your children’s teeth than brushing twice a day!

Consumption of certain foods and drinks can either deteriorate or improve oral health.  Not surprisingly research suggests eating high-sugar foods increases the risk of dental caries (tooth decay) and the frequency of sugar consumption also plays a role.

How do dental caries form? Some of the bacteria that live in your mouth form a material called plaque that sticks to the tooth’s surface. When you put sugar in your mouth these bacteria convert the sugar into acids. The resulting acids attack the hard enamel that covers your teeth and cavities can start. The acids continue to affect your teeth for at least 20 minutes until they’re neutralised. Quite simply if you don’t eat much sugar, the bacteria can’t produce as much acid. Therefore the more times you eat sugary snacks the more often you feed the bacteria.

Sweet foods that stick to teeth like dried fruit, fruit leather and lollies, plus foods that stay in the mouth for a long time such as lollipops are particularly likely to contribute towards caries.  It’s believed that eating sugar-rich foods more than four times per day increases the risk of tooth decay.


So, what can you do to protect your child's teeth?

  • Where possible consume sugar-rich foods with meals rather than on their own.
  • Foods with ‘added sugar’, fruit juices and honey seem to have a more damaging effect than foods with natural sugars like dairy products, fruits and vegetables. 
  • Ideally aim to brush your children’s growing teeth after they eat sugary snacks, but I know this is not always practical!  However, you can quietly monitor consumption of sugary foods and drinks and offer water after eating to help rinse the sugar from their teeth.
  • The key thing is to avoid sweets between meals…remember having the odd lolly is all part of being a child and you don’t have to ban them altogether, just be aware of the frequency and timing when they’re enjoyed.
  • Eat more dairy!  The good news is it’s believed snacks containing protein (particularly from dairy products) are less damaging to teeth than sugary snacks so aim to include a form of protein in your children’s snacks. ALSO...the strength of our teeth is influenced by calcium which is predominantly found in milk and dairy products. Fluoride is also important in preventing tooth decay hence why most toothpastes and some water supplies in New Zealand contain fluoride.

Here are some suggestions of tooth friendly snacks, including some protein based snacks:

  • Hard boiled egg 
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Cottage cheese or hummus served with vegetable sticks
  • Smoothie made with milk or yoghurt
  • Celery stuffed with peanut butter*
  • Fresh fruit
  • Glass of milk
  • Canned fruit in juice
  • Cheese and marmite toasties
  • Natural yoghurt
  • Unsweetened fruit and vegetable juices 
  • Cheese, egg, meat, fish or peanut butter sandwiches or bagels1
  • Natural popcorn
  • Tortilla chips or pretzels
Furthermore, the promotion of saliva flow is important as it prevents plaque build-up by helping to wash the teeth so they’re free from food particles and also neutralises acids formed by bacteria in the mouth.  It’s believed nuts, wholegrain foods and raw vegetables improve the flow of saliva so inclusion of these foods into snacks is worthwhile.

*Avoid consumption of eggs and nuts or if there is a family history or presence of egg and peanut allergies.