Cut back on snacks to protect children’s teeth

Children who snack throughout the day are more likely to have the signs of tooth decay than those who just eat at meal times. And relying on brushing their teeth isn't enough to prevent the problem, say experts from the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The study – published in the Journal of Public Health – reveals the snacking habits of pre-school children are more strongly associated with tooth decay than other behaviours.

And while tooth brushing once or twice a day or more was found to help to reduce the chance of decay, the study suggests tooth brushing alone only helps to a certain degree.

The research supports the idea that snacking on sugary foods and drinks is the key contributing factor in the development of tooth decay in children, claims Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation.

“It is clear that tooth brushing with a fluoride toothpaste alone is not the magic wand that many people still believe it to be, and preventing tooth decay also has to involve changing diet and lifestyle,” he adds.

Preventable problem

Recently it was revealed that 170 children undergo operations in England every day to have rotten teeth removed. According to Dr Carter, almost every one of these operations could have been prevented if those children’s habits had been changed to protect their oral health.

When the enamel and dentine of a tooth become softened by acid attacks after eating or drinking anything containing sugars, the result is dental decay. Over time, that acid makes a cavity – or hole – in the tooth.

“Snacking throughout the day on sugary foods and drinks means that children’s teeth come under constant attack from acid and can quickly lead to severe problems,” he says. “Children’s snacking should be limited to no more than two a day, and unhealthy sugary snacks should be replaced with healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables.

“Even though a child’s first set of teeth is temporary, the oral health behaviour children learn early on they take into the rest of their lives, so it is vital that they get into good habits as early as possible.”

Snack campaign

Public Health England recently launched its Change4Life campaign to help parents take control of their children’s snacking. Children eat around seven cubes of sugar a day, PHE experts claim, half of which comes from sugary snacks and drinks. And as well as causing a problem with dental health, this is also leading to obesity.

According to PHE, children are eating at least three unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks a day on average, with around a third eating four or more. This explains why many children are eating three times more sugar than is recommended.

“The true extent of children’s snacking habits is greater than the odd biscuit or chocolate bar,” says Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE chief nutritionist. “Children are having unhealthy snacks throughout the day and parents have told us they’re concerned.

“To make it easier for busy families, we’ve developed a simple rule of thumb to help them move towards healthy snacking – look for 100-calorie snacks, two a day max.”

The campaign offers examples of 100-calorie snacks, including the following:

  • Malt loaf slice
  • Lower-fat, lower-sugar fromage frais (some flavours include strawberry, raspberry, banana, apricot)
  • Fresh or tinned fruit salad
  • Chopped vegetables and lower-fat hummus
  • Plain rice cakes or crackers with lower-fat cheese
  • Sugar-free jelly
  • One crumpet
  • One scotch pancake

Remember to always check the label as products may vary.

Visit the Change4Life website to find out more about the 100-calorie snacks campaign.

Meanwhile, if you need advice about dental health products for children, your local Careway pharmacist can recommend the items you need.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.