All kids like the occasional treat, but too many high-sugar snacks can have a major impact on their health. Experts recommend that children consume less than six teaspoons of added sugars per day, which is the equivalent of about 25 grams or 100 calories. Consuming more than the recommended amount can significantly reduce their risk of developing a wide range of health problems, including tooth decay. While we all know that sugar is bad for our children’s health, just how bad is it?
How Tooth Decay Develops
The mouth is full of bacteria, many which are beneficial to your unique oral environment. However, the ‘bad’ bacteria can wreak havoc on teeth if you consume the wrong foods in excess. When you consume sugary foods, the bacteria in your mouth feed on the sugar, creating acids that destroy tooth enamel. Over time, the acids will create a hole in the tooth. If left untreated, the hole can reach the deeper layers of the tooth causing pain and eventually tooth loss.
The Fight Against Tooth Decay
While the teeth are highly susceptible to damage, your mouth does have some defenses it uses to fight back. When acids attack teeth, they leech minerals from the enamel in a process known as demineralization. In the early stages of demineralization, the damage is often reversible. Saliva, fluoride, and other components work together to strengthen the teeth in a process referred to as remineralization. However, if your child eats lots of sweets and starches each day the teeth may not recover from damage.
Common Cavity Symptoms
Don’t think just because your child isn’t complaining of a toothache that there are no cavities. In fact, a child can have an established cavity with no pain or discomfort whatsoever. It can take months or even years before a cavity causes noticeable pain. That is because the nerve fibers that send pain throughout the body are not located in the enamel. It isn’t until the acids eat through the enamel and into the dentin that the nerve fibers begin to send out pain signals. By the time this happens, tooth decay is present.
While many children have no symptoms of tooth decay, others may experience:
- Dull pain in the mouth
- Hot and cold sensitivity
- Pain when biting down
- Visible holes or pits in the teeth
Preventing Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is a preventable condition in both children and adults. Nutrition is a highly important part of oral health. Parents should serve balanced meals high in whole grains and protein. Limit sugary foods and drinks. While cookies and candies are okay for an occasional snack, they not should be a daily treat. If your child still drinks from a bottle or sippy cup, avoid sugary beverages like juice. Remember that even milk in excess can cause tooth decay. Whenever possible, give your child water instead of sugary beverages.
Brushing is also highly important for the prevention of tooth decay in children. Regular brushing helps to wash away sugars and acids in the mouth and prevents a buildup of bacteria-riddled plaque on the teeth. Consult with your child’s dentist if you’re concerned about cavities or you suspect that your child may have tooth decay.