Oral Health for Baby, Toddler & Adult

Oral Health for Baby, Toddler & Adult

What are some of the common causes of tooth decay in babies, toddlers and adults? (can you please include a few surprising ones here, as we all know lollies and juice are no good).

Most of us know that tooth decay can develop if we eat lollies, chocolate, biscuits and soft drinks. In fact, it is more about how often we eat these foods than whether we like to enjoy them sometimes. Snacking and sipping many times between meal times will greatly increase risk of developing tooth decay. It is important to know that it is not only the “usual suspects” that should be considered but any sticky sweet or starchy snack product. This includes processed fruit products, cereal/seed bars & cracker snacks. Even when a product says “no added sugar” it doesn’t automatically mean that it is safe for teeth. Many of these foods are already sweet enough like juices. Also be aware that “natural” stated on a product does not necessarily mean good for dental health. These products often contain a range of sugars and acids.

What foods aid dental health in each of these groups (it may be similar for everyone but good to have a few examples for babies, adults and toddlers)?

Besides developing good tooth brushing routines from a young age, there are certain foods that can support and promote dental health throughout life. Dairy foods especially milk and cheese for their calcium rich content, crunchy veggies that promote chewing, protein foods like meat, chicken, fish and eggs contain valuable nutrition and are no risk to teeth. Older children and adults would benefit from including nuts as a healthy snack. And very important is plenty of fresh tap water for valuable tooth strengthening fluoride content.

Are you seeing more damage from foods/drinks than before? If so, why is this? (Eg toddlers eating more refined sugar or adults drinking more wine?)

Tooth decay rates seem to be increasing again in Australia despite much of the country having access to fluoridated water. Coinciding is the much talked about rise in overweight & obesity and related health concerns. Both unhealthy weight gain and tooth decay are associated with diet. Tooth decay risk is increased when a person consumes frequent snack products and drinks often between meal times. Convenient snack size packaging and portable drink containers may encourage more frequent sipping and snacking habits. Another problem for teeth is frequent acids that we get from our diets. Fruit juices, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, “sour” confectionery and even too much acidic fruit or pickled products, can damage tooth enamel if eaten frequently. These foods are best eaten at mealtime rather than in-between.

What are your top tips for instilling a love of healthy foods in babies and toddlers?

You can’t go past the vital role that parents and family play in instilling a love of healthy eating. Parents who are committed to a healthy way of life and enjoy fresh foods are in the best position to promote this same enjoyment to their children. Family meals are valuable to social and nutritional well-being. The latest Australian Dietary Guidelines for health encourage a variety of foods and lots of colour. A colourful plate of fresh foods will not only be more appealing to a young child but will contain many more of the essential ingredients for health. Remember that small children need smaller portions. Lots of snacks or grazing between meals times should be avoided as this not only presents a risk to young teeth but also reduces the young child’s appetite for healthier meals. Children should be encouraged to eat three meal times and no more than 2 healthy snack times in-between meals. Teeth need a rest to remineralise and recover after each eating occasion.

What guidelines do you give in terms of ‘treat’ foods? Eg should juice or lollies be strictly for weekends only, or parties?

In the past, foods like soft drinks, chocolates, biscuits, lollies, chips, juices and cakes were only served on certain occasions like parties, festivals, birthdays and even a weekend treat when a family enjoyed a special outing together. Today, these foods are much more affordable and available and we all run the risk of including them too often. The latest Australian Dietary Guidelines for health call these foods discretionary and are “extra’ to the foods we need for health. Children need to eat a variety of healthy foods each day and too many “extras” will not only reduce their appetite but will also increase risk of unwanted weight gain and tooth decay. For dental health, it is best to offer the sweet treat with a meal and not as a snack and not to be necessarily included daily. Some treat foods are healthier than others e.g. ice cream or yoghurt is better than biscuits or lollies. And of course, don’t forget that a colourful plate of fresh cut fruit and veggies, makes the best treat☺

Can you talk a bit about the effects of milk on babies and toddles teeth? Eg letting kids suck on a bottle at night in bed?

A child over 12 months who develops a habit of drinking too many milk bottles, including to go to sleep, will be at increased risk of developing early childhood tooth decay. Besides tooth decay, which can be very aggressive in young teeth, the overuse of a milk bottle can result in other health risks such as iron deficiency and reduced appetite for other foods. The child with a big appetite who eats well by day and drinks bottles at night could gain unwanted weight. During sleep, saliva flow is very low and the food content of the bottle pools around the baby teeth giving bacteria the chance to produce harmful acids. Oral Health professionals recommend that a baby is introduced to a feeding cup from around 6 months and that bottle use stops around 12 months. Avoid giving children bottles containing juices, cordials, flavoured milks and soft drinks as the high sugar and acid content will put young teeth at very high risk. Even milk and formula contain sugars that can be used by bacteria to make acid.

As featured in Coles Baby & Toddler – Aug/Sept 2014 issue.