Sugar is one of the main causes of dental problems in children and adults, with the average Canadian eating the equivalent of 40 kilograms – or 88 pounds – of sugar a year. That’s the rough equivalent of eating 21,040 jujubes a year. Sugar reacts with plaque in the mouth, which in turn produces harmful acids that can do serious damage to the teeth. With Halloween around the corner, parents sometimes struggle to keep their kids’ teeth clean.
For starters, avoid packing sticky sweets for school snacks, since they cling to teeth and most kids don’t bring a toothbrush to school. If you do choose to pack small sweets, make sure they’re eaten with lunch, not as a snack. The increased fl ow of saliva during a meal helps to wash away and dilute sugar. Encourage your child to rinse with water after eating sweets. Eating a fibrous fruit (such as an apple or a pear) or water-laden fruits and veggies (such as melons and cucumber) also dilutes sugar in your child’s mouth.
Ending a meal with a piece of cheese or a drink of milk also helps prevent tooth decay. The calcium is good for teeth and bones, and cheese has been found to have anti-cavity properties.
It’s easy to recognize Halloween candy, cookies and pop as being sugar bombs. What’s harder is identifying hidden sugars found in seemingly healthy foods.
Kid-friendly foods such as granola bars, fruit snacks and yogurt may appear healthy, but can contain as much sugar as a chocolate bar. Honey, molasses, dextrose, glucose, maltose and fructose are all types of sugar. The higher one of these words appears in the list of ingredients, the more sugar there is in the product.
Here are a few tips for lunches and snacks that will keep your kids happy – and out of the dentist’s chair:
You will be surprised how often kids won’t notice or complain that they are eating a sugar-free version. Some great-tasting snacks that won’t harm your teeth:
Even 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices with no sugar added contain natural sugars (fructose) so they should be consumed in moderation. Fruit and vegetable juices also tend to be extremely acidic and the high acid content can severely damage tooth enamel in a similar way to carbonated beverage. Many kids are happy to drink tap water, and putting it in a cool water bottle makes it that much more appealing.
If your child eats a sandwich every day, be aware that some store-bought brands of bread can contain up to half a teaspoon of sugar per slice. Experts recommend no more than six teaspoons a day.
Moderation is key when doling out daily Halloween candy for kids. A bit of sugar is fine, provided kids brush their teeth after. Keep Halloween candy to be mostly eaten at home so you know kids will be brushing their teeth after. Go through the candy with them and help pick out what is OK and ditch the stickiest, chewiest candies that are hardest on teeth. By giving them some control it should make it easier to divide up.
Anaida Deti is the CEO of Dental-X Smile Centres in Toronto. She is also a registered dental hygienist, certified dental assistant and certified dental receptionist. She is an active member of the Ontario Dental Assistants’ Association. Follow Anaida on Twitter @dentalXSmiles.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2015.