Within recent years, dentists have reported an alarming influx of children -- sometimes even as young as 18 months -- suffering from tooth decay or gum infection. Often, these conditions require invasive surgery, resulting in the loss of numerous baby teeth.
The statistics are nothing to smile about. In 2014, Australia's Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne indicated that, of the 1,000 minors who underwent general anesthetics for tooth removal, 178 were aged three or younger.
In light of this startling fact, parents have begun wondering -- what is the main culprit of early childhood dental issues, and how can they be avoided? Typically, the answer lies in today's pervasive high sugar diet. Kid-proven favorites like carbonated drinks, processed snacks and sweet treats can seriously affect a child's oral health.
When monitoring your child's sugar intake, which food and beverage items should you specifically include on the no-no list? Take a look at these top five Dental Don'ts, in addition to some wholesome alternatives to protect their pearly whites.
Stay Away: Sodas & Juices
These notoriously cloying beverages contain, respectively, about 40 grams and 25 grams of sugar per serving. In addition, artificially sweetened drinks are often blended with enamel eroding compounds, like phosphoric and citric acids.
Try Instead: Naturally Flavored Water
Entice your kids to quench their thirst with water by adding a tangy, aromatic infusion from sliced cucumbers, berries, watermelon or even mint leaves.
If you decide that juice is still on the table, Dr. Matthew Mullally, an Indiana-based dentist, advises sticking with juices that have no added sugars. "Water it down whenever possible," he says. "The goal is to cut down sugar content. If possible, limit their servings to one a day."
Stay Away: Dried Fruits
These popular snacks might be considered healthy, but in reality, the dehydration process strips away their nutrients, leaving mostly concentrated sugars. In addition, the non-soluble fiber content adheres sugar directly to the tooth's surface.
One main culprit is the raisin. "They actually cause a lot of harm," warns Dr. Justin Sycamore, who runs a cosmetic dental practice in California. "Most parents think they're really great, but the sugar sticks to the grooves of your teeth for hours."
Try Instead: Fresh Non-Acidic Fruits
Satisfy your kids' midday cravings with crisp apples, juicy pineapple or tart strawberries, which contain plaque and cavity fighting Vitamin C.
Stay Away: Starchy Carbs
These dinnertime staples, including pasta, potatoes and white bread, rapidly convert to stored sugar throughout digestion. In addition, based on their coarse texture, these foods can get wedged between the teeth, causing tartar build-up.
Try Instead: Raw Crunchy Vegetables
Encourage your kids to munch a variety of colorful veggies, like carrots, broccoli and cucumbers, as their folic acid properties scrape away plaque.
Stay Away: Candies & Desserts
These heavily processed confections are unsurprisingly loaded with refined sugars (as much as 30 grams in a Snickers bar, for example). In addition, saccharine particles cling to the teeth and gums indefinitely, which speeds up dental decay.
Try Instead: Stevia Sweetened Yogurt
Treat your kids to a smile worthy dessert by mixing together all-natural liquid stevia and plain Greek yogurt, for calcium fortified enamel strength.
But if you have a little wiggle room here, Alene D'Alesio, DMD, and Program Director at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh suggests letting kids be kids.
"Strawberries with whip cream after dinner or a piece of chocolate after lunch is okay." she says. "It's a better alternative to sticky candies that can stay in the grooves of the teeth. "
Stay Away: Energy Drinks
These sports enhancers claim to boost athletic performance, but they often have even more sugar than their soda counterparts. In addition, a 2008 study determined the acidic content in Gatorade eroded teeth faster than both Red Bull and Coke.
Try Instead: Organic Iced Green Tea
Encourage your kids to refuel their energy with this healthy source of caffeine, which offers anti-inflammatory benefits to fight gum disease.
Stay Away: Gummy Vitamins
While these may be the easiest (and yummiest) way to get your child to consume their vitamins, from an oral health standpoint, they aren't the best option. Sure, they're visually appealing, but they also contain unnecessary sugars, food coloring and other additives that can be harmful to developing teeth.
Try Instead: Xylitol Sweetened Vitamins
A well-balanced diet can go a long way, but if your child has the pickiest of palates, and only after consulting with your family doctor, Dr. Mary Tierney, pediatric dentist in Illinois, recommends taking a multivitamin sweetened with xylitol.
"These melt-in-your-mouth form of vitamins allow them to go down quickly and not stick to teeth," she says. "Not only is the xylitol dentist approved, but it also helps make them taste great too."
Another defense against premature tooth rotting is teaching your children proper oral hygiene. If kids learn, from an early age, the importance of a clean smile, fresh breath and regular dental check-ups, they will likely make these habits permanent. The following tips are simple and effective starting points:
- Ensure they thoroughly brush their teeth, both in the morning and at night, with child-safe toothpaste.
- Demonstrate how to floss between each tooth and instruct them to do this at least three times per week.
- Urge them to rinse out food particles with kid-friendly antibacterial mouthwash right before bedtime.
- Schedule visits with your family dentist twice each year, including x-rays and fluoride treatments.