Let’s face it: sitting in the dentist’s waiting room with your child who’s suffering from toothache isn’t the most pleasant way to spend your afternoon.
The guilty feeling you get when the dentist says that another tooth has to be filled isn’t great either. Here, nutritionists Ashleigh Graham and Maria McKeown set out what leads to tooth decay, and what we as mums can do to help our little ones avoid it.
Dental health and the foods we eat have a direct effect on each other. Research has shown that by making wise food choices, we can avoid tooth damage.
Simply put, dental cavities occur when bacteria on our teeth produce acid, which attacks the enamel on our teeth.
Some foods have been shown to protect against dental cavities: for example, dairy products (especially cheese) can reduce acidity in the mouth. Foods such as milk and cheese are rich in calcium and phosphate; eating these may encourage the build up of calcium in the teeth and bones, which is essential for the growing child.
Sugars are the main component of the diet linked to dental cavities; other foods such as the cooked starch found in crisps can be broken down by the mouth into sugars. Sucrose (table sugar) is most commonly associated with cavities, although the fructose contained in foods and drinks leads to tooth decay.
Fructose is another kind of sugar which is commonly found in fruit juices. Children are especially at risk of tooth decay if the juice is in contact with the teeth for a long period of time. This usually happens if the juice is taken in a baby’s feeding bottle or swished around the mouth.
Teeth are most likely to decay when sugar is held in the mouth for a long time; this is why eating sweet snacks and drinks between meals or at bedtime are particularly bad for the teeth.
What to look out for when shopping
Don’t just look at the fat or salt content on food labels, keep an eye out for the following words on the list of ingredients: sucrose, glucose, fructose, hydrolysed starch and invert sugar. These types of sugar can all cause dental cavities. Honey, golden syrup, treacle, granulated sugar and caster sugar also lead to tooth decay.
Quite simply, this protects against cavities. Fluoride causes the enamel of the tooth to become more resistant to acid, it reduces the production of acid in the mouth, and increases calcium uptake by the teeth.
Fluoride is naturally present in drinking water in some parts of the UK. Most toothpaste has added fluoride, which is believed to explain the decline in the rate of dental cavities reported in British children during the past 30 years. Fish is a good dietary source of fluoride, although you should bear in mind that the bones must be eaten. However, it’s not all good news: taking too much fluoride during tooth formation can lead to patching and staining of the enamel.
Encouraging children to brush their teeth and promoting good nutrition - including reducing the amount of sugary foods they eat, and providing a diet adequate in calcium and Vitamin D - will help protect against dental cavities and give good overall dental health.
If you have any concerns about your child’s dental health, ask for advice from your dental practice.
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