Your Child's Oral Health  

Diet is the single most important risk factor in tooth decay.  (Photo: Flickr user, sondyaustin)
Diet is the single most important risk factor in tooth decay. (Photo: Flickr user, sondyaustin)

Food & tooth decay: bosom buddies

by - Story: 58858

Why do children suffer tooth decay?  In a word - FOOD! When parents are asked what they think is the reason their children have decay, most respond "poor brushing" or "not flossing". While everyone knows these are important in maintaining good oral health, few know that it is the child’s diet which can create the PERFECT STORM of tooth decay.

Why is diet the single most important risk factor in tooth decay? Here’s an example that illustrates this concept. Everyone agrees that an orange is a healthy food choice. An orange contains many healthy compounds as well as sugar and acid, two critical ingredients in the tooth decay equation. Eat an orange once per day and you will enjoy the benefits without any downside. Eat oranges constantly throughout the day, however, and the sugar and acids in the oranges will create an environment which encourages the decay causing bacteria, or sugar bugs, to grow faster than the “good bacteria”. The acid in the oranges will also erode your teeth, making things worse. Once the sugar bugs “take over the neighbourhood”, they begin to cause decay by creating acids using the sugars in the orange, as well as the other carbohydrates we eat. The concept to remember is frequency of eating. The more often we eat foods which contain sugar or acid (and it’s really bad if they contain sugar AND acid), the more likely we will experience tooth decay.

The second concept is food consistency or “stickiness”. Peanut butter you grind yourself is sticky but does not contain sugar. No harm is done to our teeth. On the other hand, dried fruit is sticky and it contains lots of sugar. Crackers and cookies are not sticky by themselves, but mix them with saliva and you have a sticky, starchy glue. This “glue” gets pushed between teeth and into the grooves of teeth where cavities occur, and where toothbrushes will never reach. Letting the starch or sugar stick to the teeth for long periods of time provides a prolonged feast for the decay-causing bacteria, dramatically increasing the risk of tooth decay. This introduces a third concept in the link between diet and tooth decay - oral clearance. Food which is cleared from the mouth quickly by swallowing does little harm to our teeth.

How do you put these concepts to work? Decrease the frequency of between meal snacks, don’t allow “grazing”. Choose foods which will not stick to teeth. Vegetables in their “natural” containers, nuts and hard cheeses are great choices. Choose foods which are rapidly removed from the mouth by swallowing. For between-meal drinks, avoid juices, fruit cocktails and soft drinks of any kind. Water will quench thirst far better and without doing any damage to teeth. Read labels. Sugar is often listed in several ways on labels - glucose, dextrose, sucrose, inverted sugar. The closer to the beginning of the list of contents the more sugar is contained within that product. Lastly, when choosing snacks for children, choose foods which are not processed or packaged. Follow these ideas and your child will probably eat better at meal times because they will be hungrier.

Making smart choices in foods for your children will keep them healthy. It will also reduce both the risk of tooth decay and the cost of your dental visits.

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About the Author

Dr. Alan Milnes is a pediatric dentist with 35 years of practice experience and 20 years of experience as a full time University Professor at the Universities of Manitoba and Toronto. He has operated a full time pediatric dental practice in Kelowna since 1997, the only pediatric dental office in either the Interior or Northern Health Authorities.

Dr. Terry Farquhar  completed his pediatric dental residency training in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Rochester, New York. Prior to entering Dentistry, Dr. Farquhar  worked as a pediatric nurse at Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary.

Their pediatric dental specialty practice provides a complete range of dental services for ALL children and teens including treatment in-office using various forms of behaviour guidance, oral, inhalational and intravenous sedation and treatment in hospital under general anesthesia.

"We are dealing with an epidemic of tooth decay in children, a condition called early childhood tooth decay. Many children with dental disease have a poor quality of life because of chronic pain and infection which makes sleeping and eating difficult. Providing information through our column to parents of children in the Interior of BC will be helpful in giving them important tools to prevent dental disease in their children."

Please visit our website for a look at what we do each and every day and our qualifications - www.okanagandentalcareforkids.com; email: [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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