It’s very difficult to know which snacks and drinks are the right ones to give to children. Supermarket shelves are full of products, telling us they are “sugar free”, “low calorie”, “diet” and “Low in sugar” it’s no wonder parents are confused!
In order to determine which foods and drinks are harmful to teeth we need to understand the decay process.
Everyone has plaque on their teeth. Plaque is the bacteria which grows on teeth and gums constantly throughout the day. Twenty minutes after brushing, the plaque starts to grow again.
If you have plaque on your teeth and you introduce sugar into the mouth either in a drink or something you eat like a biscuit, the plaque converts the sugar into an acid. It might only take you ten seconds to eat the biscuit, but the acid can remain in your mouth for up to one hour afterwards.
This is the time when the acid starts to eat away at the enamel on your teeth. If you have something with sugar in every 1-2 hours you will literally be bathing your teeth in acid all day, which will lead to tooth decay. The solution is to leave enough time in between acid attacks for your mouth to recover to it’s normal ph level.
The best time to have sugary snacks and drinks is at meal times as we get lots of saliva in our mouths to aid the digestion process, the saliva helps to wash away acid.
Check the label!
So what is a healthy snack for teeth? Look at labels. Obviously sugar is harmful to teeth, but quite often it is itemised on ingredients lists as dextrose, lactose, sucrose and fructose. If it ends in “ose” it’s sugar!
Some products claim to be sugar free or low calorie. Don’t be fooled into thinking these are safe for teeth. Sugar is added to many products for two reasons: as a preservative and to make it taste sweet. If manufacturers remove the sugar they will need to add something to enable the product to have a suitable shelf life, this being citric acid. Unfortunately, citric acid damages the tooth enamel causing dental erosion.
The second item they need to add is artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin and isomalt which can cause a reaction for some children. Even drinks labelled as no added sugar can still contain up to 10% sugar.
Generally speaking the only drinks safe for teeth which can be consumed at any time during the day are plain milk and plain water. Flavoured milks and waters usually contain sugar and acid and should only be consumed at meal times. Drinking them through a straw will also help as it allows the drink to bypass most of the teeth. Although fresh fruit juice counts as one of your five-a-day items, it is extremely acidic so this too must only be taken at meal times.
The best snack items to keep to hand are fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, savoury crackers and wholegrain bread sticks. Beware of dried fruits such as raisins and sultanas. The natural sugars in them are very concentrated due to the dehydrating process. Also they are very retentive and have a tendency to stick to teeth.
Chop carrot, cucumber and celery sticks and keep them in sealed containers. Also mandarin orange slices, grapes and cheese cubes are good, fun-sized snacks to keep children happy and stop them craving things they shouldn’t have.
If you would like more information regarding healthy snacks and drinks, ask to see the Dental Health Educator at your Dental Practice, who will have lots of tips and advice to help you and your child make healthier choices.