The problem

A healthy balanced diet is essential for young children in order for them to grow and develop properly. Diet is also important for the development of healthy teeth.

Most children enjoy sweet sugary foods, but too much sugar in their diets is the major cause of tooth decay that can lead to toothache, fillings and infections.

The problem with sugar is that when you put it in your mouth, the bacteria found in plaque converts the sugar into acid. This acid then starts to dissolve the surfaces of the teeth for over an hour until your saliva neutralises the acid. The tooth will then start to repair itself, but this takes time. Decay starts to happen when the tooth doesn’t have enough time to repair itself before the next hit of sugar arrives, or if the repair systems are compromised.

Acids are often present in many foods, and these soften the teeth allowing them to be rapidly worn away. Decay bacteria flourish in an acidic environment promoted by sugary and acidic foods.

While it is unrealistic to expect children never to eat sugary foods, just by taking a few sensible steps at an early stage it is possible to greatly improve your child’s chances of developing strong, healthy teeth that will serve them well during their childhood and beyond.

So what can I do?

  • Do not sweeten foods and drinks to suit your taste: children are not born with a ‘sweet tooth’!
  • Limit sugary foods to mealtimes.
  • Most children love sweet drinks. Encourage them to drink those containing no added sugar, or that use artificial sweeteners.
  • The acidity of the drink is also relevant, so consider low acidity drinks such as Robinson’s Special R or Ribena Toothkind. Excessive consumption of acidic drinks can lead to permanent erosion of the teeth. Smoothies can be very acidic.
  • Most children love sweets and to expect them never to eat them would be impractical.
  • Eat sweets and chocolate all in burst rather than spreading them out over the day. This limits the number of acid attacks on their teeth during the day.
  • Try to only give sweets at certain times of the week, such as Friday afternoons, Saturdays, or as very occasional treats. Don’t give sweets regularly as rewards (especially for coming to the dentist!) or to keep children quiet.
  • Discourage grandparents and childminders from giving sweets to your children either as rewards or as pacifiers.
  • Consider buying sugar-free sweets particularly those with xylitol, which has been shown to reduce decay.
  • Snacks between meals should ideally contain foods which do not damage teeth. This is covered more fully over the page.
  • Never allow your child to consume sweets or sugary drinks last thing at night after they have brushed their teeth.
  • Brush your child’s teeth twice daily with a children's fluoridated toothpaste
  • Visit the dentist regularly with your children to allow your child to become used to the environment and so any problems can be spotted early on.

By following these simple guidelines, you will greatly improve your child’s chances of growing up with strong healthy teeth  

 

Snack foods for children

Snack foods for children are a difficult area. There are a huge range of products commercially available, many marketed specifically at particular age groups.

Many of these are high in sugars, salt content, acids, and fat, but not usually all at once. It is also fair to say that none of them are toxic.

However, from our standpoint, you are looking to provide snacks for children which can provide essential nutrients for their growth and development, coupled with minimal sugar content and acidity.

Nuts & seeds – these are packed with nutrients and are often available unsalted. They are often available in spreadable ‘butter’ form, often unsweetened and unsalted.

Fruit and vegetables – There is a wide variety of fruit and vegetables available, often in small portions. Choices could include pears, apples, bananas, avocados, watermelon, cantaloupe melon, cherry tomatoes and carrot sticks. Fresh fruit can also be chopped up and mixed into unsweetened yoghurt.

Popcorn – made at home this can be unsalted and unsweetened.

Other possibilities are good quality grilled cocktail sausages and chicken drumsticks, cubed ham or chopped chicken or turkey.

Cheese is interesting because it is high in fat but does have a high calcium content. It seems reverse the effects of sugars if consumed after the sugary snack.

There are many commercial products on the market; It is difficult to generalise as there is such a wide range. However, because products now mostly have nutritional information printed on the packaging, it is now easier for parents to more easily see all the nutritional values contained in food products.

Pay particular attention to food & drinks containing ‘hidden’ sugar, which are often advertised as ‘healthy’. It is worth a quick glance through the labelling to determine how much sugar is present.  Smoothies, sweetened yoghurts, and ‘healthy’ breakfast cereals are particular culprits.