Sugar and Your Child’s Teeth

Establishing healthy eating habits early on is essential for the sake of your child’s health. The effects that sugary foods have on their teeth could cause multiple complications down the road.

Many parents do not realize the negative effects that sugar has on primary teeth (i.e., baby teeth) or the reason that cavities develop. Understanding the foods that are more likely to cause cavities and the process of cavity development can help parents make better food and drink choices for their children.

Why Do Cavities Develop from Consuming Sugar?

In order for a cavity to form, three things must be present: bacteria, carbohydrates (i.e., sugar), and a tooth. Once your child eats sugar, it only takes 20 seconds for the bacteria in the mouth to begin combining with it. If your child neglects to thoroughly rinse his or her mouth after consuming sugar-filled foods and beverages, the bacteria will use that sugar to stick to the surface of the teeth (i.e., plaque) and begin to multiply.

Bacteria Creates Acid

As the bacteria feed, they create acid. The acid starts attacking the tooth enamel and breaking it down. As time passes, the enamel becomes porous (full of tiny holes), which causes it to weaken. These tiny holes lead to decay and eventually, a cavity develops. A cavity is fundamentally a bacterial infection that occurs because acid created a hole in a tooth.

A Low pH Level in the Mouth Contributes to Cavity Formation

Another contributing factor to cavity formation is the type of environment there is inside your child’s mouth. The pH level in your child’s mouth directly relates as to whether there is an acidic or alkaline environment present. Ideally, the pH level of the mouth should be at 7. A pH level under 5.5 can lead to cavities and tooth damage.

The pH level falls when acidic or sugary foods and beverages are consumed. These foods and beverages include cookies, cakes, and candies, as well as lemonade, sports drinks, and sodas. As these foods and beverages are consumed, the bacteria convert the sugars into acid, causing the pH level inside the mouth to fall, creating an acidic environment.

It usually takes approximately 20 minutes for saliva to neutralize this pH level drop. Keep in mind that every time your child takes a sip of his or her soda, that clock restarts. In addition, remember that the entire 20 minutes before the saliva neutralizes the pH level, tooth damage is occurring.

An Untreated Cavity Could Lead to Tooth Loss

If a cavity does develop and is left untreated, it could result in tooth pain. This is because it progresses beyond the enamel and enters deep into the tooth. In addition, your child could end up losing the tooth altogether.

Although losing a baby tooth may not seem like a big deal now, once your child’s permanent teeth start to come in, that missing tooth could cause eruption problems. For this reason, a baby tooth that is lost prematurely or pulled due to decay may require the insertion of a ‘spacer’ in the gap left behind. A pediatric dentist will insert a spacer to ensure the permanent teeth erupt normally and on schedule.

Preventing Cavities

Since tooth enamel is not regenerated by the body, prevention is key. Here are some tips to help you keep your child’s pH level elevated:

  • Monitor your child’s snacking and sipping habits.
  • Only allow your child to drink juice or milk with a meal: As your child eats, the food helps wash away the extra sugar that is found in these beverages.
  • Give your child water between meals. If he or she uses a sippy cup, be sure you only give water in this cup. Both milk and juice are high in sugar; therefore, drinking these throughout the day unnecessarily exposes your child’s teeth to excessive amounts of sugar.
  • Avoid eating more than five times a day, this includes snacks. Consider this eating schedule: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and then dinner.

As long as given in moderation, treats are fine; however, be mindful when choosing your child’s treats. Chocolate is a good option because it melts away from the teeth. Sticky, chewy candies are much more difficult to remove and remain hidden in hard to reach places. This increases the acid level in the mouth. Instead of sticky treats, try healthy alternatives for snacks this summer, and choose fruit or sugar-free popsicles.

At Pediatric Dentistry of Central Florida, our orthodontist, pediatric dentists, hygienists, and staff members proudly provide each patient with the outstanding dental care they deserve. If you are concerned about the health of your child’s teeth or you would like to take steps to prevent tooth decay, contact one of our offices and schedule an appointment for your child today. To reach our office in Maitland, please call 407-628-2286, or, call the St. Cloud office, 407-593-8900. If you would rather contact us using our online form, please click here.