How Does Sugar Affect Your Child's Teeth?
It's no secret that most kids love sugary treats. Cookies, cupcakes, popsicles, and candy bars are all delicious and fun to eat. However, these treats can also do a great deal of damage to your child's teeth.
Since you were small, you may have heard that sugar isn't good for teeth, but you may not know exactly why that is. Not only is it important for you to understand the why, it's important for your child to understand why. This will guide them to make better food choices for themselves.
At Dr. Beanca Children's Dentistry, we are committed to educating our families on the best ways to grow and maintain healthy teeth. Keep reading to learn more about the effect of sugar on teeth and some alternative food choices which will make everyone smile.
The Basics: The Parts of a Tooth
Let's start by going over the parts of a tooth. Teeth are made up of four types of dental tissue. Three of them are hard, one is soft. Enamel is the hard covering of the tooth. It contains no living cells. Because of this, it cannot repair any damage done to it via decay or simple wear and tear. The cementum is a hard tissue that covers the root of the tooth, acting as a protective layer. Dentin is located between the cementum and the enamel of a tooth. It is hard but less brittle than enamel as it works to protect the tooth's pulp and support the crown of the tooth.
The pulp is the soft tissue part of a tooth. It is found in the center of a tooth and holds nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. The pulp is what hurts if you fall and damage the tooth, and the blood vessels help keep the pulp healthy and alive. The crown is the part of the tooth you can see, and the root is the part located within the gums that you can't see. All these parts work together to help you to eat, speak, and give a great, big, happy smile.
What Does Sugar Do to Teeth?
Now that you're reminded of the makeup of teeth, we can move on to how sugar affects them. Mouths are full of bacteria. When that bacterium meets sugar, acids are formed. These acids can eat away at enamel. Over time, this creates tooth decay and cavities. As stated above, enamel cannot repair itself, so once it's been damaged, a dentist will need to step in.
Sugars are in so many of the foods and drinks we eat. And no matter what form it comes in, sugar acts the same, even sugar that's found in carbohydrates. It can be hard to avoid sugar and mitigate the damage done to teeth. When considering your child's diet, there are foods which are good to limit and foods which will help keep teeth strong and healthy.
Foods to Avoid
You can probably guess the foods you need to steer clear of except for occasional treats. Candy, ice cream, and chocolate (to name just a few sweets) are all full of sugar. Soda and juice are also high in sugar. Chewy candy can be especially pernicious, as it sticks to teeth, starting to do damage straight away. Foods such as chips, pasta, and white bread all have starch in them. These starches break down into simple sugars and can cause the same sort of damage as the sweet foods named above. If your child does partake of these foods, it's important to clean their teeth soon after or, at the very least, rinse their mouth out with some water.
Foods That Promote Healthy Teeth
Fortunately, there are plenty of foods which can aid in the growth of strong, healthy teeth—foods that won't promote tooth decay. Calcium is helpful for strengthening both teeth and bones. Many delicious foods contain calcium, including cheese, yogurt, and milk. Cheese and yogurt also contain probiotic bacteria, which can prevent both the build-up of plaque and gingivitis.
Chewing on fibrous foods helps build strong teeth. Raw carrots and broccoli both help in the production of healthy bacteria in the mouth. Raw carrots are a good source of zinc and magnesium, while broccoli provides healthy doses of vitamins K1 and C. (Note that while these veggies also taste good when cooked, cooking often strips the veggies of some of their nutrients.)
Apples benefit teeth in so many ways. Chewing apples stimulates the gums, which reduces the amount of bacteria that might cause tooth decay. Apples offer a high dose of vitamin C, crucial for healthy gums. A lack of vitamin C can cause infections and bleeding in the gums. Finally, eggs—an incredibly flexible food—should be a regular part of your child's diet. Eggs contain vitamin K2, helpful for strengthening teeth, along with many other minerals and vitamins your child needs for their overall health.
A Good Oral Hygiene Routine
An important part of minimizing the effect of sugar on your child's teeth is helping them to maintain a good oral hygiene routine. Huntington Beach pediatric dentist Dr. Beanca Chu of Dr. Beanca Children's Dentistry recommends that you begin to brush your child's teeth twice a day from the moment they emerge. Start with a small, soft-bristled brush and water. (Ask your pediatric dentist about toothpaste use for a child under the age of 2.)
Until your child has the fine motor skills to properly brush their own teeth, you should be helping brush their teeth with a kid-sized toothbrush and a fluoride-rich toothpaste. Most kids develop the skills to brush on their own between the ages of 6 to 8. Flossing can be added to the mix as soon as your child's teeth grow close together.
Consider asking your pediatric dentist about dental sealants. Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings placed on your child's molars. Sealants can prevent cavities for many years—and children aged 6 to 11 without sealants have three times the number of cavities as children the same age who have sealants. Regardless of whether you decide on dental sealants for your child, being consistent with a daily oral routine will go a long way toward reducing the damage of any sugar your child has had during the day.
A Good Pediatric Dentist
In addition to watching your child's diet and maintaining a healthy oral hygiene routine, it's important to find a pediatric dentist who can provide periodic exams and cleanings to ensure your child's teeth are the healthiest they can be.
If you live in the Huntington Beach, CA, area, we'd love to have you and your child visit us at Dr. Beanca Children's Dentistry. We stand ready to help brighten your child's smile. Contact us for an appointment today!