Helpful Pediatric Dentistry Tips!

What Role Does Sugar Play In My Child’s Teeth and Cavities?

by Dr. Steve Whittemore, D.D.S. | Published March 7, 2023

We all like to indulge in a sweet treat every now and then, and kids are especially keen on sugary snacks. While the occasional indulgence is harmless, eating too much sugar can have a negative impact on dental and overall health. It doesn’t help that there are so many hidden sugars and added sugars in some of their favorite drinks and foods. 

Before we look at how sugar can harm your child’s oral health, let’s talk about how much sugar is safe for them each day, along with some common names for added sugars, and foods to avoid. 

How Much Sugar Should Kids Have Daily? 

According to a scientific statement published by the American Heart Association, children and teens should consume less than 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, of added sugar per day. Additionally, they also recommend that children under the age of two should not consume any added sugars.

Eating a lot of foods and drinks that are high in added sugars during childhood is linked to the development of heart disease and an increased risk of obesity and high blood pressure. 

How to Spot—And Avoid—Hidden Sugars

Sugar added to the foods we eat can appear on nutritional labels under a variety of names. To help you spot hidden sugars, we’ve outlined a list of common names for sugar:

  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Rice syrup
  • Agave nectar
  • Honey
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Evaporated can juice
  • 100% fruit juice
  • The suffix “-ose” (sucrose, dextrose, glucose, maltose, etc.)

There are quite a few foods and drinks that are marketed as “healthy” options for kids and families that actually include a lot of hidden sugars. These items should be enjoyed sparingly or as special treats rather than as a staple in your child’s diet. These include:

  • Sports drinks
  • 100% juice drinks
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Yogurt and flavored milk 

We would suggest not consuming energy drinks at all for children of any age. 

How Sugar Affects Your Child’s Teeth

Frequent consumption of sugar will lead to tooth decay. The acids in sugary foods dissolve the minerals that make up the enamel on your teeth. If your child is consuming too much sugar on a regular basis, the enamel—or outer layer of the teeth—becomes porous and can lead to tiny holes in the teeth. Over time, the holes in your child’s teeth can become bigger, making way for the formation of cavities

Bacteria also play a role in how sugar harms your child’s teeth. Our mouths contain billions of bacteria—both good and bad. When children (and adults) eat too much sugar, harmful bacteria use the excess sugar by breaking it down to acid. This acid, over time, will break down the surface of the enamel to create a cavity. Good brushing removes the bacteria on the surface of the tooth, decreasing a possibility of developing tooth decay. 

Protect Your Child’s Teeth From Sugar

In addition to limiting the number of sugary foods your child eats, regular visits to their pediatric dentist is the best way to combat tooth decay and cavities. At the Pediatric Dentistry of Central Iowa, we’re specialized to work with children to ensure they have a fun and positive experience when they get their regular cleanings. 
Get in contact with us today to schedule an appointment and learn more about the role sugar plays in your child’s teeth.

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