Kids' dental health a concern, warn experts

Sugary food and drinks proving a disaster for Aussie children's teeth.
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01.Crack down on sugar bandits, warns ADA

Cartoon of Aussie kid in dentist's chair

Nearly half of Australian parents say their children have experienced symptoms of tooth decay in the past year and a similar percentage of parents think cavities are inevitable for kids, according to a survey released by the Australian Dental Association (ADA).

"This survey data is very concerning considering that tooth decay is the most common chronic disease for children, even though it is entirely preventable," Dr Peter Alldritt, chair of the ADA’s Oral Health Committee, says.

The top cause of tooth decay according to the ADA is the consumption of sugary foods and drinks on a regular basis, and worryingly, according to the survey, 72% of Australian parents find it difficult to get their children to eat less sugary foods, while 33% admit allowing their children to have soft drinks, fruit juice and energy drinks four or more times a week.

Dental Health Week: focus on babies and toddlers

The release of the survey coincides with Dental Health Week, running from 4-10 August, which this year is aimed at raising awareness of baby and toddler oral health.

"Parents, friends and relatives use of food to reward, bribe or to comfort children sends an inappropriate message about food from an early age and undermines other efforts to build healthy eating habits," Alldritt says. "Children who consume high sugary foods and drinks on a regular basis are at greater risk of dental decay as well as obesity and diabetes."

"Everyone needs to understand the risks and put some boundaries around children’s access to treats. When rewards are given, parents should ask, is there a better option?"

Cavity-causing foods masquerading as healthy

While soft drink, lollies and biscuits are obviously culprits when it comes to kid’s tooth decay, some less likely suspects are also contributing to the poor state of children’s mouths. A wide variety of snacks marketed as healthy options are high in sugar. Worse still, many are sticky and can get stuck in children’s teeth, increasing acid attacks and decay.

Foods that can cause tooth decay are:

  • Dried fruit
  • Muesli bars
  • Crackers
  • Children’s cereals
  • Flavoured milk
  • Sweetened yoghurt
  • Fruit bars
  • Fruit slices
  • Flavoured popcorn
  • Canned fruit
  • Baked goods such as banana bread
  • Sweet and savoury biscuits
  • Fruit juice.

Alldritt says that while it’s unreasonable to expect parents to entirely cut out these foods, they do need to exercise more restraint. "No one is saying that your children should never be allowed to eat these foods again. Be aware of how much sugar is in these snacks, but more importantly, reduce the number of times they eat these foods, make sure they are eaten in one go and preferably as part of a meal. Grazing should be avoided. Only allow high sugar snacks in moderation."

The ADA has launched a website dedicated to dental health issues for babies and toddlers, with a range of materials that can help parents, relatives, teachers, child care providers and health professionals and health promoters.

More dental stats from the ADA

  • Australians consume more than double the world’s average 17 teaspoons of sugar intake (per person, per day).
  • Almost 60% of Australian parents believe they are doing everything they can to prevent their child from getting tooth decay.
  • Almost 40% of Australian parents believe they need to set a better example for their children when it comes to oral healthcare.
  • Less than 10% of Australian parents believe their child should first visit the dentist before they turn one.
  • Almost half of Australians forget to brush before bed.
  • Almost 60% of Australian parents find it difficult to get their children to brush their teeth twice a day.


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