Sugary Snacks Rotting The Mouths of Babes

Snack time poses the greatest dental health risk to South Australian babies and toddlers, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommending people halve the amount of sugar in their diet to combat obesity and tooth decay.*

daycare-featureSnack time poses the greatest dental health risk to South Australian babies and toddlers, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommending people halve the amount of sugar in their diet to combat obesity and tooth decay.*

The South Australian branch of the Australian Dental Association (ADASA) says that lack of community awareness about the sugar content in refined packaged food and drinks is putting preschoolers at risk of painful tooth decay and extractions.

Babies and toddlers are the focus of the ADASA’s major oral health promotion and education campaign for Dental Health Week, which runs from August 4-10 and will be launched at Margaret Ives Community Children’s Centre at 10.30am today (Tuesday 5 August). 

Research shows that nearly half (45.3%) of South Australian children aged five to six years old have experienced dental decay in their baby teeth.2** More children aged 14 and under are admitted to hospital for extractions and dental treatment under general anaesthesia than for any other reason.***

Earlier this year, WHO launched a public consultation on its draft guidelines on sugar intake.WHO’s current recommendation is that sugars should make up less than 10% of total energy intake per day. The new draft guideline also proposes that sugars should be less than 10% of total energy intake per day, but that a reduction to below 5% of total energy intake per day would have additional benefits.****

Five per cent of total energy intake is equivalent to around 25 grams (around 6 teaspoons) of sugar per day for an adult of normal Body Mass Index (BMI).

Here is a list of snack foods for parents to minimise or avoid:

  • Lollies
  • Coloured popcorn
  • Soft drink, including diet versions
  • Fruit snack bars
  • Cordial
  • Muesli bars
  • Sports drinks and energy drinks
  • Sweet biscuits
  • Fruit juice
  • Some breakfast cereals
  • Savoury crackers
  • Dried fruit
  • Potato chips
  • Processed snacks branded “low fat”

“Parents want to do the right thing by their children, but many are simply unaware just how much sugar is in refined packaged snack foods,” ADASA spokesperson, Dr Angelo Papageorgiou, said.

“Processed food and drinks are contributing to rising rates of tooth decay in children.

“It is important to keep baby teeth healthy as they are preserving the space in the mouth for the adult teeth. Infections in baby teeth can be painful and affect the adult teeth growing underneath.

“While lollies and soft drinks are the main culprits, decay-causing bacteria can use any food that contains refined sugar and carbohydrates such as savoury crackers, potato chips and snack bars.

“Even seemingly healthy snack choices can be dangerously high in sugar. For example, one 200g serve of low fat yoghurt contains seven teaspoons of sugar, as does one 250ml cup of fruit juice.

“A child who has one serve of low fat yoghurt and one cup of fruit juice in a day could be consuming 14 teaspoons of sugar in those two items alone. In this situation full-fat yoghurt and fresh fruit is the healthier option.

“Foods that are branded as low-fat generally contain high levels of sugar, as do fruit juice, fruit bars and dried fruits like sultanas. While a muesli bar might seem like a healthy option, it’s essentially muesli held together with sugar.

“While it is unrealistic to eliminate these foods completely, the ADASA encourages parents to limit processed snacks and replace them with tooth-friendly foods. These include milk, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, wholegrain cereals, lean meats and tap water.”

The ADASA offers the following tips to promote good dental health among babies and toddlers:

  • If your baby has a breastfeed or bottle of milk at night, gently wipe down their teeth with a moistened cloth before putting them to bed. Never allow your child to take a bottle of milk or other sugary beverage to bed.
  • Avoid giving your baby or toddler frequent snacks. Three meals and two snacks per day is sufficient to meet dietary needs.
  • Offer a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals, lean meats and dairy.
  • Feed your baby or toddler healthy snacks such as cheese and fresh fruit.
  • Limit sugary snacks such as lollies, sweet biscuits, fruit bars, muesli bars, dried fruit, cordials, juices and soft drinks
  • Highly refined packaged foods such as savoury crackers and chips can have high levels of carbohydrate (sugar). Check the nutritional information panel on packaged foods to determine which have high carbohydrate and sugar levels.
  • Encourage your child to drink tap water, rather than bottled water, as much as possible so that they gain the benefits of fluoride.
  • A healthy diet must be complemented by good oral hygiene – clean your child’s teeth morning and night and schedule regular dental check-ups.
  • Schedule your child’s first visit to the dentist at 12 months of age or shortly after the eruption of the first baby teeth.

Visit for further information.

** Ha D (2011) Dental decay among Australian children. AIHW Dental Statistics and Research Unit Research report no 53. CAT No DEN 210, Canberra: AIHW

*** Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2005) Australian Hospital Statistics 2003-2004, CAT No HSE 37, Canberra: AIHW (Health Series No 23)


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