As a dentist I see many parents wanting the best for their children’s teeth. One of the issues faced by many parents is knowing what snacks are appropriate to give their children to maintain optimum oral health. Throughout this blog I will be looking at healthy vs harmful snacks.
This part looks at the science behind the tooth decay. If science isn’t something you are interested in then you may want to skip to the next paragraph. In order to understand how to avoid tooth decay we need to look at how it is caused. When a fermentable carbohydrate is consumed it is metabolized by the bacteria found in plaque and this in turn produces acid as a by-product. This acid causes a reduction in the pH in the mouth and a process of demineralization (breakdown of tooth structure) can occur. So what relevance has this to snacking? The more snacks consumed, the higher the frequency of acidic attacks on teeth leading to a greater probability of dental decay. Also the more sugar a snack contains the more acid is produced.
Many snacks which are perceived as healthy can in fact be harmful to children’s teeth. This is because many of them contain hidden sugars. Fruit juices’ may be perceived as healthy to many but in fact can contain just as much sugar as a fizzy drink. E.g. In a 350 ml serving of Coca-cola it contains 10 teaspoons of sugar compared to apple juice at 9.8 teaspoons.
The best healthy alternatives for children to drink are water and milk. We may think that giving a plain biscuit compared to a chocolate one is a healthy alternative but plain biscuits still contain lots of sugar. Many plain biscuits also contain hydrogenated fats. These can cause an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol or even strokes later in life. Many snacks that claim themselves to be ‘fat free’ actually contain sweeteners to enhance their flavor e.g. fat free yogurts. Other examples of foods containing high sugar levels include breakfast cereals and dried fruit. Healthy alternatives I would recommend include toast with butter, rice cakes, plain natural yogurt with fresh fruit and cheese. With regards to breakfast time I would recommend Weetabix, porridge or shredded wheat.
So when is the right time to give your children a snack?
Children tend to be hungry after school. A healthy snack is advised after school and this should be implemented as soon as your child starts going to school so that this habit continues through to later life. I advise that one day is chosen in the week as a treat day. On this day a treat can be consumed and I advise that the treat is consumed all at once to reduce the frequency of the acidic attacks on teeth. When choosing what treat to give your child I advise a chocolate bar rather than a packet of sweets. There are two reasons for this. Firstly a chocolate bar is more likely to be consumed all at once compared to individual sweets and therefore this will reduce the frequency of acidic attacks on your child’s teeth. Secondly a chocolate bar can be more readily washed away from the tooth surface compared to sweets which can stick to the tooth surface and cause further damage.
In 2013 over 5300 young people in NI were admitted to hospital for tooth extractions. This is the single biggest reason for children receiving general anaesthetic. In those 5300 cases dentists extracted 24, 154 teeth; 22, 056 were rotten baby teeth.
With healthier snacks and regular check-ups we can work together towards changing this fact.