Alongside good dental hygiene such as tooth brushing and regular dental visits, effective nutritional advice is a key strategy in the drive to reduce dental decay. Here I take a look at how drivers of prevention and treatment need to work together effectively to strengthen and protect the teeth of our children and offer some tips on what you can do to help your children.
Tip 1: Take a vitamin D supplement if pregnant, or give a vitamin D supplement to children if between six months and five years old. A simple blood test to check vitamin D levels can be done by your GP.
Good nutrition is essential for children, not only to build healthy teeth, but also to keep them healthy. A parent’s influence on their child’s dental health begins in the womb; for example, as discussed in my previous blog, children born to mothers deficient in vitamin D are more prone to dental caries. Vitamin D is important for increasing the absorption of calcium and phosphate from the food you eat. In addition, the cells in the teeth that form dentine and enamel contain vitamin D receptors, meaning that this particular vitamin may play a role in their functioning. Current Government advice states that pregnant and breastfeeding women, the over 65s and children from six months to five years old should take vitamin D supplements.
Tip 2: By checking labels, limit a child’s added sugar consumption to a maximum of 6 teaspoons or 24g per day. Remember, one teaspoon = four grams of sugar.
To prevent dental caries in children, it is important to note the benefits of a diet limited in added sugars. Remember, free sugars differ to intrinsic sugars and are those found naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables in an unprocessed state.
Let’s start off with a scary fact (sorry!) – the Government’ National Diet and Nutrition Survey 2008–12 reveals that children aged four to ten years ate a mean of 14 teaspoons of sugar (56g) every day! Current advice is a maximum of six teaspoons per day, with the recommendation that this is halved to only three teaspoons per day for maximum benefit. One teaspoon equals roughly four grams of sugar. Once you know this, it’s an easy conversion into visually comprehensible amounts of sugar.
Tip 3: As much as possible of a child’s diet should come from unprocessed foods without an ingredients label.
Unfortunately, reducing your child’s sugar consumption is not quite as simple as cutting out sweet drinks and treats (although this is a great start). In today’s processed food era, many sugars are hidden in foods that are perceived by the public to be healthy. Sending out a clear message to check the sugar content of anything with an ingredients list is an absolute must. Particularly be aware of unsuspected hidden sugars lurking in condiments, yoghurts, healthy snack bars and savoury processed foods such as soups. Even better, is the advice to avoid processed foods where possible and eat only real foods, consisting of mainly vegetables, fish and lean meats, nuts, seeds and fruit. Also, stick to water or herbal teas as a main drink, with occasional watered down fruit juices (50/50) or very weak cordials.
Through awareness of these three simple tips, it is possible to effectively reduce the amount of free sugars consumed, leading to a healthier mouth, and a healthier body too!