In general, kids tend to prefer both sweeter and saltier tastes than adults, and don’t have to learn to like sugar, because it’s actually a preference that’s biologically ingrained. Recent studies have shown that a child’s body may prompt more sugar cravings when they’re growing, and that their sweet tooth is heightened during growth spurts when they need more energy and calories. While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence in sugary sweetness, you don’t want this basic biology to spoil your child’s smile! We take a look at what sugar does to developing teeth and how to combat its effects.

How does sugar affect oral health?
It’s pretty common knowledge that consuming too much sugar can lead to tooth decay, but you may not be aware of exactly how that happens. It’s not so much the sugar itself that causes damage, but what takes place after you eat or drink. Bacteria can be found in a person’s mouth. The acids will then dissolve the minerals that make the enamel, the outer layer protecting teeth, strong. The enamel then becomes porous, which means tiny holes begin to form on the enamel. These holes become bigger and bigger, and this is essentially the cavity that develops on teeth.

Our mouths are full of bacteria. When your child eats or drinks anything with lots of sugar, and doesn’t clean their teeth thoroughly afterwards, that bacteria will use the sugar to stick to the surface of the teeth and feed itself. As it feeds, it will quickly multiply, forming plaque and producing acid. This acid destroys the tooth enamel, which is the protective outer layer of the tooth. Cavities are essentially a bacterial infection created by these acids forming a hole in the teeth. Left untreated, cavities are able to progress beyond the enamel and deeper into the tooth, causing pain and possible tooth loss. This can happen on baby teeth and will continue to happen on permanent teeth if a child isn’t taught the proper way to deal with this.

How can you protect your child’s teeth?
Good oral hygiene is important for everyone to practice, but for children who tend to consume large amounts of sugar from their food and drinks, cleaning the teeth thoroughly and effectively becomes even more crucial. If you think your child may be at risk of developing cavities because of a sweet tooth, here are some tips to help protect their teeth and keep their smiles safe from tooth decay and cavities without cutting out all their sugary treats. It is always important to consult with a dental professional as well.

Use fluoride
Fluoride is a natural mineral that not only prevents tooth decay, but can also reverse it in its early stages, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). It’s often added to community water systems, as well as most toothpastes, so be sure your child is drinking plenty of fluoridated water and brushing regularly with a fluoride toothpaste. Dentists also recommend and provide professional fluoride treatments. Routine fluoride use has dramatically reduced the number of children affected by tooth decay.

Brushing regularly
The most effective way to remove plaque from the teeth is by brushing regularly and thoroughly. Using the appropriate amount of toothpaste for their age, show your child how to brush for the best results – brushing back and forth along the front, back, and top of the teeth, for at least two minutes, at least twice a day. The same bacteria that sticks to the teeth also clings to the tongue, so don’t forget to have your child brush their tongue, too, to remove bacteria that can cause bad breath and other issues.

Plaque doesn’t discriminate, not only does it attack the visible surfaces of the teeth, it also accumulates in between them. By teaching your child to floss daily, you’ll be helping them break up all that plaque and remove it before it can cause cavities, or even eventual gum disease. It is just as important to brush regularly as it is to floss. Teaching your young child this early will help them in the long run.

Drink more water
Water is the best thing your child can drink! Not only will it keep them hydrated, it’s good for their body, and also great for their dental health. Water doesn’t contain sugar which immediately makes it better for teeth than sugary sports drinks or soda. Since most tap water contains fluoride, having your child drink water after consuming sugary acidic foods helps dilute and rinse away any cavity-producing bacteria in between brushings. Water is also beneficial in keeping saliva plentiful, which provides a natural defense against plaque acids.

Avoid sugar-filled foods and drinks
This is a bit of a no-brainer, but dental health and diet really do go hand-in-hand. Sugary foods can set the bacteria in your mouth off on a feeding frenzy, creating decay-producing acid that is harmful to their teeth. Drinks aren’t immune, either. Soda, fruit juice, and sports drinks, for example, are acidic in addition to being full of sugar or sweeteners. This can cause damage to the tooth enamel almost immediately. By limiting sugary or acidic foods and not consuming anything with sugar after your child has brushed their teeth at night, you can keep bad bacteria at bay.

Make regular dental appointments
In addition to excellent oral hygiene at home, there’s simply no substitute to scheduling regular professional evaluations with your child’s dentist. For the health of their teeth and gums, a routine cleaning and examination is recommended every six months. Your child’s teeth will be checked thoroughly for any signs of tooth decay or other dental issues. This allows potential issues to be caught early in most cases, when measures can be taken to prevent them from getting worse.

Do you have any questions about sugar and its effects on developing teeth? Call Westermeier Martin Dental Care to schedule an appointment with your dentist 716-508-4547.