The recent press has many articles about the state of children’s teeth and needing to have lots of teeth extracted. This, unfortunately, is an ever growing problem. It's very shocking to the general public and this is the reason why newspapers write about it. It's traumatic for the child involved, and generally the parents too.
What is the cause?
To get straight to the point, it is caused by sugar, non-milk extrinsic (NME) sugars to give them their full title. Sugar, and more importantly, the frequency of consumption of sugars are the cause. Unfortunately, sugars are contained in most foods, but certainly almost all processed foods.
How does sugar affect teeth?
Once you chew a food containing sugar or take a sip of a sugary drink it changes your saliva to acidic, with pH of 5.5 or less causing damage to enamel. It takes 20 minutes for the pH level of your teeth to return to normal level above 5.5 pH through saliva buffering. If you ingest another sugary food or drink within this 20 minutes, it means your teeth are in an acidic environment for longer. When in this acidic environment the tooth enamel can be damaged leading to tooth decay.
How do you prevent this tooth decay?
Ideally you decrease the intake of (NME) sugars, and decrease the frequency that they are consumed. This allows your saliva to return the pH to normal more quickly, and the acidic condition doesn’t happen as often, so tooth decay cannot happen as much.
What to eat instead?
I generally advise to snack safely. That is to only have sugar-free foods and drinks between meals. Water and milk are the drinks of choice. Safe foods are whole fruits (not juices or smoothies), plain yoghurt cheese, bread, rice cakes. This is instead of reaching for juice and biscuits.
Crisps are a safe snack for teeth, but as a health-care professional I cannot propose these being a “safe” snack due to their very high fat and salt content.
Other helpful tips for the best care for children’s teeth:
- Bring your children to the dentist regularly. We recommend every 6 months or twice a year.
- Bring children to the dentist from when their first teeth appear or at least by their first birthday. This allows them to get to know their dentist, the environment and feel safe.
- It’s best to come as a family, then its just something you do and not a big ordeal.
- Brush their teeth twice a day; first thing in morning and last at night.
- Use a small-headed child’s toothbrush and smear of toothpaste.
- Brush for 2 minutes.
- Supervise brushing or help children up until they can write their own name.
- Limit snacks and keep them safe.
- Have a “treat day”, generally a weekend day is best. The child should eat this treat after his/her main meal as there is more helpful saliva to buffer the acid produced then.
Dr. Claire Hughes