Back to school is an exciting time for both children and parents alike. However, what is not exciting is the increase in decay in children’s teeth the dental profession is seeing today. As children return to school, it is important to be aware of many “hidden” snacks in your child’s diet. Birthday cake, cupcakes and other snacks may creep into your child’s diet without you ever being aware.
COVID has resulted in many changes in our society as well as at school. During the last home schooling period, many parents made the comment that “the kids do nothing but eat all day”. When the children did go back to school, any school birthday “treats” took the form of individual packaged surprises that have the potential to increase dental decay.
Tooth decay is caused by bacteria in our mouths. When we consume sugary foods and drinks, the bacteria will use the sugar to produce acid. It is this acid that dissolves the teeth causing cavities.
The longer a sugary food is in the mouth, the more potential it has to cause decay. An example of this is comparing eating a piece of cake with a packet of lollies. Once the cake is eaten the risk of decay slowly reduces over time. The lollies on the other hand are small and last longer, especially if sucked. Once one lolly is finished, another is popped into the mouth. The overall length of time the sugar from the lollies has to act on the teeth is far greater, thus potentially causing more decay.
In Australia, approximately 50% of children have experienced dental decay in at least one permanent tooth by the age of 12 years.
Many foods that are believed to be a healthy snack may actually be causing decay. Foods such as sultanas, dried fruit, health and muesli bars, may lead to dental decay. Cooked starches such as potato chips, crackers and breads may in fact take a longer time to clear from the mouth, leading to a risk of tooth decay.
Children love nothing better than sipping frozen juice bottles on a hot day. Although refreshing, the frozen drink will also prolong the sugar content in the mouth, potentially increasing the decay risk. As such, water still remains the best option for a refreshing drink.
For a healthy snack, fruits like mini cucumbers, carrots and tiny tomatoes are good alternatives. Cheese sticks provide large amounts of much-needed calcium, which will help to prevent cavities. Cheddar, Swiss and mozzarella cheese all stimulate saliva glands which will help to protect teeth by neutralising acid produced after eating sugary snacks.
Back to school may also mean back to sport. Mouthguards are one of the simplest ways to protect your child’s teeth. Even children as young as seven have the potential to damage their permanent teeth and should be wearing a mouth guard. There are many types of mouthguards available depending on the age and sport involved. Your dentist is the best person to give advice on which one is most suitable for your child.
Lastly, don’t forget to floss. Dental flossing of teeth is the only way to prevent holes forming in between teeth and children need to brush and floss twice daily. It is recommended this is supervised by an adult until the child reaches the age of 12.
Should you have any questions or concerns about your child’s teeth, please ask you dentist sooner rather than later. Remember, when it comes to dental decay, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.
B.D.S(Hons).(Syd). MDSc (Melb, Grad.Dip.Clin.Dent (Oral Implants), Grad.Dip.Clin.Dent (Conscious Sedation & Pain Control), FRACDS, FPFA, Senior Clinical Associate (Uni of Syd), Dental Surgeon.