Jo Waters June 26, 2017

Latest figures show there's been a 24 per cent increase in the number of tooth extractions carried out on under fours in English hospitals during the last 10 years, and experts say sugary foods and drinks are to blame.

Figures also show more than 34,000 tooth extractions were performed on under nines in each of the last two years, the highest number for a decade.

Dentists believe that 90 per cent of tooth decay is preventable by reducing sugar in our diet, as well as twice-daily brushing with fluoride toothpaste and regular dental check-ups.

Why sugar is the main culprit

Sugar is the most important factor in tooth decay and kids who eat too much of it have a higher risk, especially if they eat sugary snacks between meals. The bacteria living in your mouth converts any sugar they eat or drink into acid, which then attacks tooth enamel.

Currently, children aged one and a half to three years consume 11.9 per cent of their energy through sugar each day, while for 11 to 18-year-olds it's 15.6 per cent. The World Health Organisation (WHO) wants to reduce this to five per cent.

Acidic foods and drinks can also cause tooth damage; orange juice has a pH value of 3.5 and experts say anything lower than 5.5 can cause tooth erosion.

The five worst foods and drinks for your child's teeth

•Fruit juice, smoothies and fizzy drinks: Often, the drink that appears to be a healthy choice for your child is highly acidic (especially citrus-based drinks) and can cause erosion of enamel and tooth decay if drunk regularly.

A study in the British Medical Journal examined juices and smoothies marketed at children and found an average smoothie contained 13g of sugar per 100ml and a typical juice 10.7g per 100ml.

Fizzy drinks (even fizzy, flavoured, water and diet drinks) are acidic which is harmful to teeth and a major cause of tooth erosion in children and teenagers. The sugar contained in many fizzy drinks contributes to tooth decay.

•Sweets: All sweets contain sugar, but some are worse than others for teeth. Worst are those which stay in your mouth for longer, especially lollipops, gobstoppers and sticky, chewy sweets, such as toffees. These create more acid in your mouth. As well as containing lots of sugar, the other issue is they tend to be eaten between meals, creating yet more sugar attacks on children's teeth.

•Raisins and dried fruit: Parents often think raisins and dried fruit are a healthy snack choice for children. In fact, dried fruit is high in sugar and tends to stick to teeth. There are typically 20.05g of sugar in a small box of raisins. Again, they tend to be eaten in between meals.

•Chocolate: You might have been told that chocolate is better for your teeth than sweets, but in fact a small packet of chocolate buttons contains 18g of sugar and a Mars bar contains 30g. Chocolate is best kept as an occasional treat and eaten at the end of a meal.

•Biscuits and cakes: These are convenient and popular snacks for children, but laden with sugar. Just one chocolate digestive biscuit contains 4.85g of sugar, while a jam doughnut contains 15.8g.

How to protect your child's teeth from sugar

Cut down on the amount of sugary foods and drinks you give them, check the sugar content on food labels and swap sugary drinks for plain water or milk.

Brush their teeth or supervise them cleaning their teeth, for two minutes twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste. Don't brush straight after eating or drinking something acidic or sweet, as this can brush tiny particles of enamel away, wait at least an hour after a meal . If you do give your child sugary or acidic foods and drinks make them part of a meal rather than as a snack in between.

Supplements

Vitamin D supplements: Vitamin D helps your body to regulate calcium and phosphate and is important for dental health. Sunlight is the best source, but during the winter months many of us don't get enough. The Department of Health says breastfed babies aged under one should be given a daily supplement of 8.5mcg to 10mcg, those having formula milk don't need one unless they are having less than 500ml a day, because formula milk is fortified with vitamin D. Children aged one and over should be given a daily vitamin D supplement of 10mcg.

• Multivitamins: The Department of Health also recommends all children aged six months to five years should have a daily supplement of vitamins D, C and A (unless they are having 500ml or more of first infant formula).

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References

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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