Fact: Kids love sugary treats (well, most do). It’s not uncommon for parents to give in to their kids’ every whim and pamper them with these delectable goodies and drinks.
However, sugar is the worst thing for your children’s teeth – it will literally make their teeth rot.
The bacteria in your mouth feed off the sugars that you eat and drink and in turn, produce acid as a by-product. This acid dissolves the tooth tissue creating holes which are referred to as cavities.
This is the process of tooth decay, or caries, as dentists call it. Once cavities are formed, it allows the bacteria a place to hide and cling to, allowing them to damage the tooth further.
The Culprit for Tooth Decay – Frequency of Sugar Consumption
Now, contrary to popular belief, it’s not really the amount of sugar that’s important – it’s the frequency with which it is consumed.
When you consume sugary foods, the bacteria will produce acid, and this causes decay. Your mouth normally reacts by producing saliva which helps in two ways.
First, it helps to cleanse and wash away the acid, and second, it acts to neutralize it as well. This process takes around 30 minutes.
So, to sum up – limit the number of times your children have sugary foods or drinks per week. Diet control and management is part of a healthy lifestyle, and children rely on their parents to help with this.
They don’t have the knowledge to understand which foods are good or bad and will generally go for the sugary kind.
It’s up to their parents to guide them well and to ensure sugary snacks are kept as a treat only. The simple thing to do is limit the number of sugary snacks you keep in your home, which will really limit the opportunity for unhealthy snacking.
Hidden Sugars You Should Know About
There are lots of foods and drinks that you think are healthy, but are actually loaded with sugar.
Now going back to the point raised above about reducing the frequency of sugar consumption – it doesn’t really matter how much sugar you have, even if it’s got a little bit, it can still result in decay.
Diluting fruit juice with water will help some, but you still need to be mindful of that sugar content!
Here are some of the leading food/drinks that have hidden sugars:
- Most fruit juices such as cranberry, apple, and orange juice all have a high amount of sugar.
- Dried fruits, such as raisins – the sugars in dried fruit have become a lot more concentrated and are therefore worse for teeth compared to the fruit in its hydrated form. What’s more, dried fruit is often sticky and will cling to teeth more easily, which allows it to sit on the teeth for lengthy periods of time.
- Breakfast bars
Are Fruits Bad For the Teeth?
When fruits are consumed in the whole form, it’s not. The type of sugar in fruits is fructose and it’s not as decaying compared to sucrose, which is contained in chocolate and fizzy drinks.
In addition, as it’s contained in a whole form, protected by its cell membrane, the sugar is not as freely available for bacteria to feed on – your body has to break it down (in order to digest) and release these sugars, which is quite a slow process.
However, when you make a smoothie or juice, the process will release these sugars and create a concentrated form of them which negates the healthy aspect of eating fruit.
How Often Should Kids Brush Their Teeth?
You should brush your children’s teeth with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice daily. A non-fluoride toothpaste is also okay, if your child is young and tends to swallow it. The most important time is before bedtime as during the night your saliva production is significantly reduced.
During the day, saliva is doing the important job of washing away/neutralizing the bacteria in your mouth but, at night, this action is reduced significantly.
Brushing your teeth before bedtime and at one other time during the day ensures that all the food/drinks you have eaten during the day do not continue to sit on your teeth for the whole night, feeding the bacteria.
The worst thing you can do is have something sugary to eat or drink just before you go to bed. From my patient population, this is most relevant for young kids who rely on a bottle before bedtime. I preach the importance of brushing right before bedtime, and nothing other than water after that. Milk or formula right before bed, or during the middle of the night is a recipe for early childhood caries. It may be a tough habit to break, so try not to let it start in the first place.
Another important tip for those at very high risk of cavities is to avoid rinsing after brushing your teeth. The active ingredient in toothpaste (fluoride) works in a topical way which means it works when it is in contact with the teeth. If you rinse away all the toothpaste after brushing, then the effect is limited to those two minutes. However, if you leave it on the teeth, the beneficial effect will last much longer. This tip applies to a select group of patients, where I have recommended a special high-strength fluoride toothpaste.
Visiting your dentist from an early age will instill good habits that your child will hopefully continue into adulthood.
They will be able to get used to the environment and gain confidence if they need further treatment at some point in the future.
Dentists will also apply a high strength fluoride paste at examination visits which successfully reduces decay rate.
How to Use Mouthwash for Kids
The benefits of mouthwash, depending on the type, are multifold: they can help reduce the bacterial count in the mouth, they can wash away food particles, they can freshen your breath, and they can also act as a fluoride application. If you want to incorporate this into your child’s homecare routine, we recommend you consider doing so at the age of 6, when they can understand to spit the mouthwash out. You can make it part of the morning or nighttime brushing routine, or you can have them rinse during the day, after a meal or snack, when brushing may not be possible. An alcohol-free variant is ideal for children, as it will be milder than one containing alcohol.
A mouthwash containing fluoride acts as a supplement to your fluoride toothpaste. You can look at it as an additional application of fluoride, to help make teeth more resistant to cavities.
It’s important that parents or guardians are on-hand with guiding kids on how to properly brush their teeth. Children do not have the manual skills or knowledge of how to clean teeth in the proper way.
We recommend you supervise your children’s brushing to ensure they have done a good and thorough job. It is also best to check and clean the areas they have missed as well.