With the supermarket shelves stacked high with Easter eggs of all shapes and sizes, our season of chocolate feasting is about to start. But are we in danger of turning it into a festival of gluttony? What is a sensible amount of chocolate to eat and does it really matter?
Here, Hygienist Jo Dickinson shares her advice on how you and your family can enjoy a chocolatey treat or two, whilst protecting your teeth at the same time.
Research shows that children aged between 11 and 18 years old are regularly eating 73.2 grams of sugar on a daily basis – this is over double the recommended allowance of 30 grams of sugar per day. One of the main contributory causes of this is the fact that sugar is often ‘hidden’ in so-called healthy drinks and processed food where you wouldn’t expect to find it.
So, if you take into account that the weight of a small average Easter egg is 100 grams and the sugar content from this is likely to be at least 50 grams, then the average teenager eating one of these eggs in a day, on top of a typical British diet, will be eating 123.2 grams of sugar (that’s equivalent to 30 teaspoons) which is over four times the recommended amount. For smaller children, aged 4 to 6, their recommended daily sugar intake is 19 grams, making consumption of a small 100g egg even more concerning.
Aside from the obvious links to childhood obesity, this over-indulgence of sugary chocolate can also have a major impact upon the health of our teeth. Each year tens of thousands of children in the UK have decayed teeth extracted, with tooth decay now being responsible for more hospital admissions of small children than any other condition. Therefore, we have to ask who should be taking responsibility for this. How much sugar do we have in our diets and how can we control it?
“Aside from the obvious links to childhood obesity, this over-indulgence of sugary chocolate can also have a major impact upon the health of our teeth.”
I am not suggesting for a minute that we should ban Easter eggs, but there are some things we can do that can dramatically reduce the harmful effects of chocolate and sweets on our teeth. As a hygienist, I see many families whose children have no experience of tooth decay ever. This is not good luck but good planning on behalf of the parents.
Here are some top tips that these families use:
1. Reduce the frequency
Limiting the time sugar is on our teeth is the most effective control. Eating some Easter egg straight after a meal is far better than snacking on chocolate between mealtimes. So the old advice of ‘don’t eat it all at once’ is incorrect. Eating the sweet treat all at once is actually much better for teeth.
2. Cut down
Consider buying an Easter gift rather than a large egg. From my experience, you also may be pleasantly surprised how grateful people are that they or their children don’t have to consume an overwhelming amount of chocolate.
3. Offer alternative distractions
Children love activities like decorating polystyrene eggs and Easter bonnets. Going for a walk to count Easter bunnies is popular with younger children and treasure hunts with small gifts rather than eggs are always a hit. Older children can be given clues to unravel the location of their next clue, resulting in the discovery of a treasure of something other than confectionery. This could while away many hours, which otherwise would have been spent scoffing chocolate.
4. Increase fluoride
Although this is massively beneficial for teeth, it needs to be in conjunction with reduction of sugar to benefit our general health too.
Ask your dentist about fluoride varnish application or fissure sealants. High fluoride toothpaste can be prescribed by dentists for people who are high risk of dental decay. Alternatively, fluoride mouthwash can be used by children over eight. The best time to swish is as soon as they come in from school, not after tooth brushing. These mouthwashes should contain at least 1350 ppm of fluoride.
5. Plan family car journeys
If you are going on a long journey this Easter, bear in mind that if you and your family snack on sugary food throughout the whole journey, your teeth could be under attack for some considerable time. It takes up to an hour for tooth enamel to recover after eating or drinking something sugary so a sweet every hour will result in the enamel demineralising for the whole journey. Alternatives could be, sandwiches, crisps, plain popcorn, nuts, chewing gum, fruit, crackers, breadsticks, individual cheese portions or carrot sticks.
Remember, Easter doesn’t have to be an austere miserable holiday, instead, a few small changes can not only mean you have fun as a family but could also improve both our general and oral health.