Helpful Pediatric Dentistry Tips!

Long-Term Dental Effects of Common Kids Drinks

by Dr. Steve Whittemore, D.D.S. | Published May 14, 2021

We all know that too many sweets, like candy or cupcakes, can be damaging to our child’s oral hygiene and overall health. However, it can be easy to overlook the hidden sugars in the things they drink every day. A study by the CDC found that almost two-thirds of kids consume at least one sugar-sweetened beverage a day. Limiting your child’s intake of these sugary drinks, especially at a young age, is a key component to prevent long-term damage to their teeth. 

How Do Sugary Drinks Affect My Child’s Teeth?

When your child drinks a glass of juice or soda, the added sugars in the beverage latch onto their teeth. The sugar molecules then mix with the normally healthy bacteria found in their mouths creating high levels of acid. This combination creates what is called an acid attack. 

With every sip of the sugary drink, the acid begins to weaken the teeth’s first line of defensethe enamel. This is especially true for drinks like diet/regular soda, lemonade/citrus juices, and sports/energy drinks which are already high in acid. Damage or loss of enamel is the leading cause of tooth decay and can cause cavities, temperature sensitivity, as well as tooth infections. Because enamel can’t be replaced by our bodies once it’s lost, it’s even more important to teach our kids these healthy habits from the start.

Common Drinks and their Hidden Sugar

The trouble with spotting sugar is it goes by many different names and forms. If you’re reading a nutrition label and spot corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, stevia, and sucrosethat’s added sugar! Don’t be fooled by “diet” or “sugar free” drinks, as they too use artificial sweeteners that are just as harmful to your child’s smile. Having a little added sugar once in a while as a treat is okay, but it serves no nutritional value and can cause more harm in the long run. According to the American Heart Association, kids 2-18 should have less than 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily while kids under 2 shouldn’t have any. Some of the common beverages below have more than a day’s worth in a single serving!  

  • Fruit Juices (apple, orange, grape, lemonade) 
23g 4 teaspoons
  • Flavored Milk (strawberry, chocolate)
28g+ 7 teaspoons
  • Sports Drinks 
33.5g  8 teaspoons
  • Regular Soda
38g 9 teaspoons


Swap Your Sugary Drinks

At Pediatric Dentistry, we try to encourage families to choose smile-friendly drink options.  


Drinking plenty of water is a huge benefit to your child’s overall wellbeing. When it comes to teeth, it’s an oral hygiene superstar! It acts as a natural shower for your kid’s mouth to help wash away plaque and food build up. It also helps produce saliva which protects their teeth from unwanted acid. Whenever filling up your child’s sippy for bedtime or naptime, H2O is the way to go to avoid long-term damage. For a fun twist, try infusing water with fresh fruit for added flavor! 


A favorite drink of youngsters everywhere, milk is high in many minerals that help protect your teeth. It contains proteins that help form a barrier on the surface of your teeth. Milk is also rich in calcium and phosphorus which helps repair damage caused by acid. Although water is the best solution, drinking milk after eating sugary treats can help neutralize acid attacks. Try to avoid giving your child a sippy full before bedtime or naptime as the small amounts of sugar can still cause long-term problems. However, a glass or two of unflavored milk along with regular brushing can help promote good oral hygiene.

100% Fruit Juice

Like everything in life, moderation is key. Giving your child fruit juice is okay, just make sure it’s 100% fruit juice over the artificial stuff. Natural fruit has plenty of vitamins and minerals that support gum and tooth health. It’s recommended that kids only drink about 6 ounces a day. Fruit juices can be acidic so try to wait 20-30 minutes before brushing their teeth to avoid damage. Make juice a special treat or try cutting it down with water to limit the sugar exposure.

Schedule Regular Appointments with Your Dentist 

Hidden sugars are everywhere so remember that moderation is key. Being aware of what your child is drinking and teaching them healthy habits is an important part of protecting their oral and overall health. At Pediatric Dentistry, our specialists are here to help you develop strategies to maintain your kid’s smile. Contact our Des Moines or Ankeny office and our friendly staff will help you schedule a check-up today.


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