Hidden sugars in your child’s diet that could be affecting their dental health

Packing a healthy and nutritious lunchbox for your child gives them the energy they need to concentrate, learn and play. What a child eats also plays a vital role in shaping their oral health.

Research has shown that in Australia, more than half of 6-years-olds have decay in their baby teeth and half of 12-year-olds have experienced tooth decay in their permanent teeth.

Hidden sugars article

When should children be visiting a dentist?

Health Partner’s dentist, Dr Manjiri Malandris is a keen advocate for children’s oral hygiene, being a mother of four.

“Your child’s first dental visit ideally should be when their baby tooth is first visible or when they reach 12 months old, whichever comes first,” says Manjiri.

The dental visit is also a good opportunity for parents to discuss various concerns with dentists, such as teething, brushing techniques, habits like thumb-sucking, prevention of trauma and nutritional advice.

Manjiri says, “Regular visits are really important because it familiarises your child with the dental environment and staff.”

After the first visit, it’s a good idea to visit the dentist twice a year.

Why is brushing twice daily and diet important to oral health?

“Tooth decay is a preventable disease which is caused by specific germs” says Manjiri.

When you eat, leftover bits of food mix with bacteria inside your mouth to form plaque. This filmy, sticky substance coats your tooth enamel and gums. By brushing twice a day you’re reducing the risk of decay in the teeth by removing plaque and also reducing the risk of bad breath.

Nationally over 24,000 children aged 14 years or under were admitted to hospital due to dental conditions and these hospitalisations were considered preventable.

Manjiri says, “As soon as children have teeth visible in their mouth, parents can use a face washer to rub their teeth or a children’s toothbrush. Once their molar teeth erupt it’s a good idea to use a toothbrush with children’s toothpaste.”

A handy tip for parents:

Until your child can tie their shoelaces or do up a zip or button, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to brush their teeth properly.

What problems can decay in baby teeth cause? Does it also increase the risk of problems in adult teeth?

Manjiri says, “If you leave decaying baby teeth, it can lead to infection, which causes pain and swelling, difficulty chewing and even malnutrition in some cases.”

When a child has a hole in their tooth they won’t necessarily tell you: you may think they’re being fussy with their food, but they may not want to eat because they’re in pain.

“For some kids it can also affect their speech because they’ve had to have their teeth out as a result of cavities,” says Manjiri.

It’s been proven that children who have holes in their baby teeth have an increased risk of tooth decay in their permanent teeth.

Dentists recommend small children keep their baby teeth for as long as they can because they guide the development and positioning of adult teeth.

How to avoid hidden sugars in your child’s lunch box and snacks

The school lunch box is a prime culprit of children’s tooth decay.

Australian adults and children really shouldn’t have more than 51 grams or 12 teaspoons of free sugar a day.

Free sugar is defined by the World Health Organisation as sugars naturally found in foods including honey, fruits and fruit juices, as well as sugar we add to food.

“It can be confusing for parents, as they may think a honey sandwich, fruit juice, dried fruit, bliss balls, muesli bars or banana bread are healthy, but all of these foods can be really high in sugar” says Manjiri.

Tips for packing a healthy lunch box

  • Include something from each of the five food groups: fruit, vegetables/legumes/beans, dairy, grain (cereal) foods, and lean meats/poultry/fish/eggs.
  • Limit snacks that are high in sugar and/or saturated fats, for example chips, cakes, chocolate, donuts and biscuits.
  • Look for grain-based snacks with whole grains and high fibre content.
  • Pick whole fruit over fruit juice because the vitamins, minerals and fibre make it more filling and nutritious.
  • Pack water or milk as a drink.

The Australian Dental Association recommends halving the recommended amount of sugar per day to 6 teaspoons or 24 grams to reduce your risk of tooth decay.

Manjiri says, “It’s important to look at the back of food packaging, to find the sugar content to ensure that it is under 10g per 100g of sugar.”

Healthy, low sugar food examples:

  • One piece of fresh fruit (two pieces maximum per day is recommended)
  • Plain, unsweetened yoghurt
  • Plain popcorn
  • Roasted fava beans or chickpeas
  • Vegetable sticks with hummus
  • Quiche
  • Left overs like pasta or fried rice
  • Plain rice or corn cakes with vegemite, butter or avocado
  • Salads

A handy tip for parents:

After your child eats something sweet, consider providing them with a piece of hard cheese, like cheddar, as it neutralises any acid created in the mouth.

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Posted: Jun 21 2021


The information contained here is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal medical situation. The information is not a substitute for independent professional medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or used for therapeutic purposes. Should you require specific medical information, please seek advice from your healthcare practitioner. Health Partners does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information provided. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them.

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