By Dr. Cayce Wallace
Arcadia Pediatric Dental
We all love sweets, and kids often love sweet drinks such as soda, sports drinks, and fruit juice. Unfortunately, sugary beverages can cause a host of dental problems, including gum disease and cavities. When it comes to keeping your children’s teeth clean and healthy, brushing and flossing is not enough. Your child’s diet also has a tremendous impact on their dental health.
What Do Sugary Drinks Do to Teeth?
When your child drinks a sugary beverage, the sugar sticks to their teeth. The natural bacteria inside their mouth eats away at this sugar, producing an acid. The acid eats away at the enamel on their teeth, making them thinner and weaker. As the enamel weakens, the likelihood of developing cavities becomes greater. While soda is an obvious culprit, it is just as important to limit consumption of juice and sports drinks. Juice has often been considered a healthy part of a child’s diet because it is made from fruit, but we now know that it should be limited. Juice does not contain the fiber that whole fruit does, and the sugars contained in fruit juice are as likely as soda to cause cavities. Sugary drinks are one of the most common dietary causes of tooth decay.
How Can My Child Avoid This Damage?
Of course, the best way to minimize tooth decay is to avoid drinking sugary drinks altogether. But a more realistic recommendation is to limit the amount your child consumes sweet drinks, making them a rare treat. Offer water for thirst all day long. Water rinses the mouth and reduces the impact of harmful acids from sugary beverages and foods. If possible, a fluoride rinse will help by rinsing the sugar from the surface of the teeth and help to strengthen the enamel.
Timing is a factor as well. It is much better to have a small soda with a meal than it is to sip on a soda throughout the day. With each sip of a sugary drink, we are starting a damaging reaction that lasts for approximately 20 minutes. If they sip all day, their teeth are under constant attack.
Drinking from a straw does help minimize the effect these drinks have on teeth. Reusable straws made of silicon, glass, or metal are great alternatives to disposable straws. There are even options that have travel cases to allow you to bring these straws with you.
Lastly, make sure your child gets regular dental exams and cleanings. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child should start visiting the dentist by their first birthday or when they get their first tooth, and continue seeing the dentist for checkups every 6 months. These appointments will help identify problems early and help avoid serious oral health problems. Most dental issues are preventable with proper dental hygiene habits and regular trips to the dentist.