We’re thrilled today to have Dr Samantha Byrne from The Tooth Fairy writing for us. She’s been lecturing in oral microbiology and preventive dentistry at The University of Melbourne. As a former dentist with a PhD in oral microbiology she has great deal of knowledge about the bacterial that live in the mouth and how to prevent them from causing disease. So today, she’s chatting about tooth decay in children.
Five top tips for preventing tooth decay in children
Tooth decay the most common chronic illness among children with around 40% of Australian and New Zealand children having experienced tooth decay. It is however largely preventable.
So what is tooth decay and how is it caused?
Tooth decay occurs when bacteria that live on our teeth turn the sugar we eat into acid. This acid slowly damages the teeth by dissolving the hard tooth mineral. The good news is that early damage can be repaired! After we finish eating, saliva washes the acid away and can repair the tooth by replacing the lost mineral.
But if we eat too much sugar and importantly if we eat it too often, the saliva doesn’t have time to repair the damage and that’s when we end up with tooth decay.
So how can we prevent tooth decay?
Preventing tooth decay is about balancing the damage that occurs when we eat with things that are protective.
Five top tips for preventing tooth decay in children are:
1. Limit the amount of sugar children eat.
The World Health Organisation recommends that the daily ‘free sugar’ intake be less than 5% of your total energy intake. For children under the age of 8, this amounts to approximately 12.5 grams, or 3 teaspoons each day. Free sugars are considered to be any sugars that are added to foods including sugars in honey, syrups, fruit juice and fruit concentrates. This does NOT include the sugars naturally present in milk or fresh fruit and vegetables.
2. Reduce the number of times that sugar is eaten during the day.
This is the really important one! Many children (and adults!) love to graze. The problem with this is the teeth don’t get time to be repaired by saliva during the day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner with morning and afternoon tea is ideal. Stay tuned for tooth friendly foods, especially snacks in my next post.
3. Choose water!
Water is the best drink for teeth. It keeps children hydrated which helps make sure they have plenty of that magic saliva around to protect and repair teeth.
4. Supervised brushing after breakfast and before bed.
Children lack the manual dexterity to clean their teeth properly until they are around 8 years old, so they really need some help. Using an age appropriate fluoride toothpaste provides extra protection against tooth decay by helping repair teeth and strengthen them against further damage.
5. Visit your dentist!
Your dentist will assess your child’s risk for tooth decay, and help you with an individual plan of preventive measures for keeping those tiny teeth perfect for the tooth fairy!
– Dr Samantha Byrne
About Dr Samantha Byrne
For the past 13 years, Samantha has been lecturing in oral microbiology and preventive dentistry at The University of Melbourne. As a former dentist with a PhD in oral microbiology, Samantha has great deal of knowledge about the bacterial that live in the mouth and how to prevent them from causing disease. She particularly passionate about helping parents understand the relationship between diet and oral health, particularly in light of increasing rates of childhood tooth decay.
As a mum to 3 little boys aged 9, 6 and 4 Samantha started The Tooth Fairy as a vehicle for simple, practical information about how to maintain healthy teeth and gums.
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