Advice for Children

Despite the introduction of fluoride toothpaste and an increased awareness about harmful diets, tooth decay in children is still accepted by many people as inevitable and ‘normal’. Tooth decay can and should be prevented and it is the parents’ responsibility to ensure that their children’s teeth are protected and cared for until they are old enough to look after themselves.

Diet Control

Eating or drinking sugar too often causes tooth decay. With babies it is better to breast-feed, but if this is not possible, it is important to bottle feed with milk which has no added sugar. Normally milk does not promote tooth decay, but when it remains in the mouth for a long period, it can become harmful. Finish off a feed with a bottle of cool water only.

In addition, it is better to avoid sugary drinks – fruit juices, formulas with added vitamins and soft drinks. Their high sugar content is a serious threat to a baby’s teeth and can cause “nursing bottle mouth” or bottle decay, where most of the child’s teeth are destroyed. If you must use flavoured water, use a diabetic fruit juice, a sugar-free drink or one with an artificial sweetener, such as aspartame, Canderel or Nutri-sweet.

Teething rings and dummies probably comfort the child as a substitute for suckling than as an “exercise for erupting teeth” and “hardening the gums”. Take care that a chilled ring is not too cold to chill and damage the sensitive skin of the baby’s mouth. (Have you tried sucking ice cubes?) If dummies must be used, they should never be sugared nor should a baby be put to bed sucking a bottle with a sweetened drink at night. Under such conditions teeth rot remarkably quickly.

During the weaning stages, many mothers feel they must add to the flavour of tinned foods by adding sugar or salt. This is unnecessary and will encourage tooth decay and an unhealthy fat baby. Specially-made baby foods may be tasteless, boring and bland to an adult, but to a baby who knows no better will be perfectly acceptable and healthier.

Toddlers, and indeed older children, do not have to be spoilt with sweets or sweetened drinks and foodstuffs. Nor do they require to be fed every half hour. If the child has regular mealtimes with the family, it will accept that that is life and will not throw tantrums because of ‘hunger’. Once a parent has bribed a fractious, naughty child with sweets and gives in to future demands, the child effectively rules the parents. At supermarket checkouts, sweets are often strategically placed to target children and some, threatening a temper tantrum, embarrass the harassed mother into bribing with sweets in return for good behaviour.