What about sugar and children's dental health?

  • Dental caries, a preventable infectious disease, is the most common chronic disease of childhood.
  • One-quarter (25%) of children aged 2-5 and half (50%) of children 12-15 suffer from tooth decay.
  • Tooth decay is twice as common among poor or near-poor kindergarten aged children.
  • Untreated dental disease adversely impacts children’s ability to pay attention in school, eat nutritious food, and interact with their peers.
  • Tooth decay is caused by exposure to any kind of sugar or simple starches in foods and beverages.  
  • Eating or drinking meals, snacks or beverages more than 5 times a day significantly increases a child’s risk for tooth decay.  Consuming snacks or drinks right before bedtime is the most dangerous, because your saliva flow slows down when you go to sleep, so the acids produced by the bacteria in your mouth aren’t washed away or neutralized.
  • Children age 9 to 18 have the highest sugar intake – about 17% of their daily calories are from added sugar.  
  • The new USDA Dietary Guidelines have decreased the recommended limit for added sugars to no more than 10% of daily calorie intake.  If a child eats 1500 calories a day, that’s no more than 150 calories from sugar, or about 9 teaspoons of sugar.
  • Almost half of the added sugar in the diets of Americans over age 2 comes from beverages such as soda and fruit drinks, sports/energy drinks, and coffee or tea.  The next third comes from sweets, snacks and grains such as crackers, bread and cereal.  Condiments like ketchup or salad dressing can also add a few extra teaspoons of sugar to your diet each day.
  • An often overlooked source of sugar among small children is liquid medication for congestion, allergies, pain or fever.  Drinking water or brushing after taking liquid medicine reduces your child’s risk for tooth decay.
  • The amount of sugar in each serving of food or drink is listed on the nutrition facts label under the section “Total Carbohydrates” as “Sugars,” in grams (g).  One teaspoon of sugar is a little over 4 grams.  Also, look at the list of ingredients.  There are many different names for sugar, but you can learn to spot them all.  Use the number “3” as a guide:  If a word for sugar is one of the first three ingredients listed, or if there are more than three names for sugar on the list, then the product probably contains too much sugar.
  • Brushing for at least 2 minutes, 2 times a day reduces the bacteria that can cause decay.  An adult should always assist children under the age of 8 with tooth brushing. 
  • Using fluoride toothpaste the right way is the most important part of brushing.  Children 2-6 years old only need a small smear of fluoride toothpaste across the brush.  Brush the toothpaste on all surfaces of the teeth, then rinse the brush off and brush the tongue and the roof of the mouth.  Don’t rinse your mouth with water after brushing.  Just spit several times to remove the excess toothpaste.  Have small children say “Patooey!” very forcefully if they have difficulty spitting.  Don’t eat or drink for at least 20 minutes after brushing.  This lets the fluoride stay on the teeth longer and fight decay.  Brushing right before bedtime is particularly important to prevent decay.

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