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The Effects of Sugar on Kid's Teeth - Guest Post with Pediatric Dentist Dr. William Liou

Ah sugar sugar. We love it, we hate it, our kids get it stuck in their teeth. Unfortunately many of us parents - and our kids - have an unhealthy relationship with sugar, and it can have a major impact on our dental health. 

The first few months with a new baby is tough, but your little gets his or her first set of teeth, it is another task to add to the parenthood list. Yay.

Many of us, especially first-time parents, may wonder how do you keep that tiny little pearl of a tooth clean and cavity free?

According to the unspoken book of parenting, you are supposed to brush your kid’s teeth for them until they can fully good it the right way on their own -typically until the age of 7. Yeah... you’re on the hook for seven years. Seven long years.

Let's be honest, keeping a child's teeth clean and happy is not a pleasurable experience – the kid doesn't like it, the process is uncomfortable, they resist, toothpaste (and spit) gets everywhere. It's a hot mess. And it’s not any fun for us parents either. I mean, we barely have enough time to brush our own teeth! 

However, even though we all dread the process, keeping that little mouth clean is super important in order to maintain and teach good dental hygiene. Plus, in the long run, will save you a load of time and trouble - and money!

To help you get a better perspective, I interviewed Dr. William Liou, the clinical director and a board-certified pediatric dentist at American Pediatric Dental Group to discuss the impact of sugar on kid's teeth and what we can do about it as parents.

What is a safe amount of daily sugar intake for toddlers and kids?

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that children over age 2 years (up to 18 year old) should consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar each day. Children under 2 years should avoid consuming any added sugar since they need nutrient-rich diets and are developing taste preferences.

Which common products contain the most added sugar?

Products that contain higher amounts of added sugar include soda, fruit-flavored drinks, sports drinks, cakes, and cookies.

What about beverages such as juice?

According to American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) guidelines, juice should not be introduced to infants before one year of age; intake of juice should be limited to four ounces a day for children ages 1-3 years of age; 4-6 ounces for children 4-6 years of age; eight ounces for children 7-18 years of age.

Overall, there are no specific guidelines from the AAPD regarding children and their sugar intake with regards to teeth, only guidelines regarding juice.

Sugar on Kid's Teeth

How much and how quickly does sugar affect kids' teeth?

Cavities are formed from multiple factors, which include a patient’s diet, genetic factors, and level of hygiene. Plaque (which is a residue left on teeth) is composed of saliva, bacteria, and food. The bacteria feed off of this food residue and the byproduct is acidic which is what causes cavities, which are essentially holes.

That is why it is essential to brush your child's teeth often, to remove the plaque from your teeth. With regards to genetic factors, some people have stronger tooth enamel and more “basic” saliva, which can counteract the acidic byproduct that bacteria produces, reducing their chances for cavities.

What percentage of kids' vitamins would you say are actually healthy or sugar-free?

It is difficult to give an exact percentage regarding healthy vitamins for children. There are many different types of vitamins being marketed. With that said, it is always important to check out the ingredients, especially those claiming they are popular or “Pediatricians #1 choice”. It’s also important to check for sugar and acidic content of vitamins, as these are both vital components in the cavity process.

One brand of “healthier” vitamins I have seen claim to be sugar-free. Upon looking at the ingredients it does not have added sugar but does have ingredients such as citric and lactic acid, both of which can cause enamel erosion of teeth.

One ingredient commonly used in vitamins and sugar-free gum is called Xylitol. Xylitol is a great sugar substitute because bacteria cannot metabolize it, therefore reducing cavities in the process. It may be advantageous to recommend kids vitamins that use Xylitol as a sugar substitute but being cognizant of any other ingredients that may be included as well.

Sugar on Kid's Teeth

Gummies are a popular way to administer vitamins to kids since they look and sometimes taste like candy. Are there better alternatives for kids to get their necessary vitamin supplements?

Referencing the Mayo Clinic, “multivitamins aren’t necessary in most healthy children who are growing normally.” Regular meals and snacks should be sufficient in providing a complete source of nutrients. If there is a concern regarding a child being a picky eater, showing a delay in physical/developmental growth, having certain chronic diseases or food allergies it may be a good idea to speak with the child’s pediatrician regarding vitamin supplementation.

What are your tips on protecting our kids from tooth decay caused by sugar?

Because tooth decay is caused by multiple factors (diet, dental hygiene, genetics), I believe first and foremost in trying to brush and floss after meals -instead of only in the morning and before bedtime in order to be the most proactive. How cavities form is very dependent on how long plaque remains on teeth. It is recommended by the AAPD to be using fluoridated toothpaste on children of all ages once they have teeth. Children between 1-3 years old a “smear” layer, 3-6 years old a “pea” size amount, and so on. Flossing should begin as soon as you see contacts (no spaces) between teeth.

In addition to leaving plaque on your teeth, the frequency at which you subject your teeth to sugary substances also affects the rate of cavity formation. A classic example is if a child has a pound of candy, would it be better for their teeth to eat it all at once or break it up into several sittings? The answer would be to eat it all at once (although still not recommended!).

Sugar on Kid's Teeth

What can we do to reduce the amount of sugar on kid's teeth?

Keep in mind the types of foods your children are eating. Those that are sticky and likely to get trapped onto a tooth’s surface are more likely to cause cavities (i.e. cookies, raisins, candy).

Juices are often a tough part of a child’s diet to cut down. A recommendation would be to dilute the juice little by little until they are more accustomed to drinking more water.

Despite these recommendations, it is essential that children see a pediatric dentist by the age of 1. Because the enamel on baby teeth is very thin, cavities can form rapidly. The value in seeing a dentist at a young age is emphasizing prevention of cavities and establishing good oral hygiene practices at home.

References:

American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD)

American Academy of Pediatrics

The Mayo Clinic

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