skip to Main Content

Kids & The Sugar Pipeline

Wake-up Call for Today’s Families

It’s recognized as the most prevalent, unmet health need among American children today. It’s five times more common than asthma. And what might be most shocking is that the condition is largely preventable.What is this chronic and rampant disease? The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) has identified cavities as the most prevalent chronic disease in both children and adults.

While the relationship between sugars and cavities, also known as dental caries, is a well-known one, and effective methods for management and prevention of the disease exist, the incidence, especially in kids, does not seem to be diminishing.

Today, more than ever, parents are confronted with a high volume and vast array of high-sugar foods and beverages heavily marketed to children and adolescents. From juices to energy drinks, fruit snacks to candy, the choices are endless and available for every age group.Compounding this problem are misleading labels such as all-natural, organic, and no sugar added. While these labels may provide improvements over other similar products, they do not always provide a healthier option in terms of preventing cavities. A generation ago, candies, cookies, and sweets were some of the major sugar sources leading to tooth decay. Today, this group has expanded and now, one of its most significant members is the sugary drink.

The average non-diet soda has more sugar than the common candy bar. A child’s juice-box beverage can contain as much as a tablespoon or more of sugar. Even worse, drinks to which sugar are added, like iced Tea and other flavored powder drink mixes, are often sweetened to excessive amounts. Liquids are consumed at a higher rate and volume than solid foods, and as children ingest these products throughout the day, they are frequently bathing their teeth with sugars leading to the weakening of dental enamel and eventually, to cavities. Liquid sugars also have the ability to reach into hard-to-clean places, between teeth, and into natural pits and fissures found on many teeth.

An important and simple fact to remember is that frequent consumption of sugar can lead to cavities. These sugars can be liquid or solid, all-natural, organic, or feature some other trendy label. The fact does not change. Products like 100 percent pure juices, organic fruit snacks, and even fruit cups are often high in naturally occurring sugars, which, if consumed frequently, will place a child at a higher Risk of developing cavities.

While these products can offer some nutritional benefits in terms of hydration, vitamins, and nutrients, like most things, they should not be consumed in excess, but only occasionally. Today, as in years past, water and regular low-fat white milk should be the main sources of liquid in a child’s diet.While both serve to hydrate, they also don’t promote the development of cavities, and in the case of milk, offer important nutritional components such as calcium and vitamin D, which are vital to healthy growth and development.

Dentists and healthcare providers today recognize the effects of poor nutrition not only on the oral cavity, but also on general health.The incidence of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity are rising in children at an alarming rate. Parents and healthcare providers should increase efforts to provide children with better nutritional information and healthier dietary options. In addition to healthy dietary habits, regular brushing and flossing, and twice yearly examinations with your dental professional can help you and your kids maintain a healthy oral environment and give everyone in the family something to smile about.

Real Ideas For Limiting Sugar To Help Reduce Cavities:

Liv Schneider, MD, a Richmond pediatrician and mother of three young kids, says parents can “help kids put their food choices into context.” When a child is constantly asking for sugary treats, encourage her to choose a healthful snack instead. Talk about a special treat she’ll have later at an upcoming planned event, like a birthday party or family gathering.

“This technique empowers kids by stressing self-control rather than food restriction,” says Dr. Schneider, who adds that celebrating with food (birthday cakes, Halloween candy) is fine, but don’t reward with sugary food items. “Special treats should be about social connections and not tied to our children’s self esteem,” says Dr. Schneider.

She also recommends sharing desserts as a general rule. “One serving split four ways can be festive and satisfying without creating a huge sugar load.”

Jan Dalby, nurse practitioner and mom of older boys, says families need to forget juice and focus on increasing water intake. The young athlete’s body should be hydrated with water, not sugary sport drinks. “In extremely hot weather, if sports drinks are indicated,” says Dalby, “athletes should drink five cups of water for every cup of sports drink.”

For the younger set, Dalby has a great tip for making water more appealing. “Freeze sugar-free flavored drink into fun-shaped ice cubes and add to the water. It adds a little flavor, but not a lot of sugar.”

She also suggests adding a few splashes of real lemon or lime juice, an orange slice, or some frozen blueberries to your child’s water. “It is a lot more fun to drink when there are a few dancing, bouncing blueberries in that water,” Dalby says.

Laura Duke, a mom of girls and a nurse practitioner, cautions parents to read labels, and not to be fooled by bogus buzz words. “Just because they use words like fruit, vitamin, and natural, in the label does not mean the item is healthy.”

As a reminder, she offers an unsettling visual. “Remember that the number of grams of sugar on a given label, divided by four, equals the number of teaspoons of sugar per serving.” What’s the average sugar count in a serving of juice? About twenty grams, which equates to five teaspoons of sugar. Yuck!

When it comes to healthy choices for hungry kids, she says the first snack kids of all ages should reach for is fruit. That can only happen if parents keep the fruit bowl and fridge well-stocked. Like Mom used to say: If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not really hungry.

John Flowers, DDS, MSD, is a private practice pediatric dentist in Midlothian.
Back To Top

There are reasons 17,000 families have signed up for the RFM eNews

Exclusive Contest Alerts | New Issue Reminders | Discount Codes and Savings