Over the past few months, the national news has been in uproar over the state of children’s dental health. So, we’ve enlisted the help of Nutritional Therapist Natasha Wilcock to provide this week’s blog. Specifically written for the parents amongst your patient list, this blog helps to reinforce the advice of many dentists on how parents can help prevent bad oral hygiene in their children.
What do you think is the number one cause of hospitalisation of primary-aged children in the UK? Fever? Infectious disease?
The answer may surprise you. It’s tooth extraction. And nearly 500 children a week aged between five and nine are being hospitalised to have this procedure carried out.
So, why are our children’s teeth in such a rotten state?
Good oral hygiene is of course an important preventive measure. But what about the cause? A recent study, published in the open-access journal BMC Public Health, claims that free sugars (which are sugars added to food, and also those naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates) are the sole cause of tooth decay in children and adults.
The UK recommendation is that no more than 10% of our daily calories should come from free sugars. However, following a public consultation at the end of 2014, this is likely to be lowered to no more than 5%. According to the National Diet & Nutrition Survey 2008–12, children in Britain aged four to ten, get nearly 15% of their calories from added sugar.
The obvious culprits for sugar intake are fizzy drinks, closely followed by sweets, chocolates, cakes, biscuits and fruit juices. But there is a surprising amount that can sneak in under the radar. Cereals are some of the worst offenders, topped by Kellogg’s Frosties which are, by weight, 37% sugar. Another to watch out for are low fat foods – sugar is usually added to compensate for the lack of palatability caused by taking the fat out. Even savoury foods such as sausages and meat pies can contain high amounts of added sugars.
The key is to get into the habit of checking the labels, particularly the ‘Carbohydrates (of which sugars)’. As a guide, anything over 22.5g of total sugars per 100g is considered high, and under 5g per 100g, low.
Replacing high-sugar foods with healthier options is a simple way to cut sugar intake. Here are some practical tips for healthy swaps:
- Swap cereals for porridge with fruit, or eggs with toast
- Swap sweet snacks for carrot sticks with a hummus dip or unsalted nuts
- Swap fizzy drinks for water, milk or occasional diluted fruit juice
- Swap puddings for yoghurts with fruit (choose yoghurt without added sugar)
- Swap commercially prepared baby foods for homemade. Homemade foods have been shown to be lower in sugar and higher in nutrients.
Finally, it’s not just our teeth that are suffering as a result of sugar consumption; over a third of children in their final year of primary school are classified as overweight or obese. We urgently need a paradigm shift in the way we view sugar. Not just for the sake of our teeth, but for the sake of our health.
Take a look at this link to the NHS UK live-well site, where you’ll find some more information on some of the top sources of added sugar – most you’ll be aware of, but some may come as a surprise.