Who does not love sugar? We all do, but so does bacteria. Fine, bacteria love sugar as much as we do, so what? When we eat sugar, we share a portion of sugar with them, bacteria. Yes. That’s where the problem is.
Sugar is detrimental for health is a well-known fact. It creates and aggravates a host of diseases, also known to the whole world. One of the major culprits for most dental problem is also the sugar which even if known to people, they choose to ignore it for the kind of lifestyle we have today.
The typical diet of young children in Australia today is saturated with sugar, and more sugar. They start their day with juice which is packed with added sugar, cereal with sugar and milk, muffin which is again with added sugar, bread, butter jam which is total sugar with little fruit. Mid-morning snack is a chocolate, and juice. Lunch is accompanied with a soda or a pop or some juice. Afternoon snack is also some drink and a sweet. Dinner again accompanied by a carbonated sugary drink. And in between these meals, lots of candies and fruit rolls and chocolate bars.
All the Health Advisory agencies suggest reducing sugar intake of people in general and children in particular. World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that people should get less than 5 percent of calories from sugar daily.
What can we do to cut down sugar intake from children’s diet?
The major sources of sugar in the diet of children consists of non-fruit juice drinks, 100% fruit drinks, snack cakes, cookies, puddings, candy and desserts including chocolate desserts.
So how can we reduce sugar from children’s diet to bring it to recommended and desired level for better health in general and dental health in particular.
To be able to achieve the goal of minimising sugar from children’s diet, we have to set examples. As we know that children learn from adults, and copy whatever they see around, it is the duty of parents to see that they set a good example and become good model to copy. So before cutting down sugar from our children’s diet we should start cutting down sugar intake ourselves.
There are a few simple guidelines to follow to reduce sugar intake in children’ diet and thereby help in better dental health.
Baby bottle tooth decay
Don’t allow the baby to go to sleep with bottle in his/her mouth. Babies have just started growing teeth. When the baby goes to sleep with juice or milk bottle in the mouth, the bacteria in the mouth are receiving constant supply of sugar in the milk/juice to work on. The baby develops decay in teeth early on in his life. It is advisable to clean the baby’s mouth before he put in bed for the night’s sleep. Running a soft cloth in his mouth with normal clean water will go a long way for the baby’s dental health in later years.
It is very convenient for parents to give drink as an accompaniment to meals, or as a snack in between meals. The drinks, even if it is a fruit juice box, contain lots of sugar way more then recommended allowance. Fruit juices which may claim to have no added sugar also have high content of sugar because they are concentrated fruit juice. To help cut down sugar parents should reduce the number of drinks a child consumes in a day. Drinks like soda, pop, sport drink or energy drink, all have high sugar content which sticks to the teeth and stays there till the child has next food item. It gives ample time for bacteria to work on sugars and damage teeth. A substitute for such drinks would be milk or water.
Snacks full of carbohydrates
The second most damaging food for teeth are snacks full of carbohydrates in the form of cakes, cookies, potato crisps, chocolates and sweet desserts. Avoid feeding your child these junk foods, called junk because of their ability to cause tooth decay and weight gains, which leads to obesity in children and adults as well. These foods are not damaging on their own as such. They cause tooth decay when eaten in excess. The carbohydrates in these foods break down in the mouth if allowed to stay long in the mouth and allows bacteria to turn it into acid as a by-product. It is therefore a question of how long the food remains in the mouth. If after eating sugary foods, a child is made to brush his teeth then the sugars will be washed away and there won’t be anything to work on for bacteria.
It has been proved beyond doubt that whatever a child sees around and learns during formative years, stay with him forever. The best thing to do for parents is to provide the child with a healthy choice in foods. The best practice would be to offer healthy choice of fruits and vegetables to chew on when hungry, or as a midmorning and mid evening snacks. Fruits eaten rather than made into juice are healthier because there is fibre in it and sugar is in limited amount not concentrated as in juice. Also, when the fruit is chewed it increases its satiety value. When your child is given very sweet fruits like mangoes and bananas, it is helpful if is asked to brush his teeth as sugars in these fruits may remain in the mouth for long. Cheese also is a healthy snack because of its nutrients content and also because its ability to increase the saliva in the mouth which will help in washing away remnants of food from the mouth.
Reduce the habit of eating between meals
It is damaging to the teeth if your child snacks more and eat less at mealtimes. Snacking on sticky food is quite detrimental to teeth as sugar gets stuck on teeth and allows build up of acids and plaque. Even when you want to give sweet desserts to your child, include it in your child’s meals, lunch or dinner. Snacks like raisins, jelly beans stick to the teeth. Make it a point for child to brush his teeth after these snacks.
Develop healthy food habits as a routine
When we develop routines for entire family, it will automatically be followed by children. Choose healthy foods like fruit and vegetables and include them in your meals. Use healthy alternatives to sticky and sugary snacks; make it a habit to read labels on food packages. Learn to count how much sugar a package contains, and how much is recommended. Avoid using chocolates or candies as a reward for achievements for your child. Encourage to finish fruits, vegetables, and salads served on the plate.
Above all, develop a good dental hygiene routine. Explain how brushing twice a day, and after having sugary sticky snacks can help removing bacteria and plaque from the mouth. Why it is important to brush before going to bed. Explain the importance of flossing, how flossing removes food particles from between the teeth and stops tooth decay because of that.