Sip Smart: How Sugary Drinks Affect Kids’ Teeth and What Parents Can Do

Children love sugary drinks like juice and soda pop. Unfortunately, these high-sugar beverages can be harsh on their oral health, contributing to conditions like tooth decay and gum disease. The CDC revealed that over half of children between the ages of six and eight have had one or more cavities in their primary teeth, and over half of adolescents between 12 and 19 have had one or more cavities in their permanent teeth.

The Effect of Sugar on Teeth

The mouth is full of bacteria, some “good” bacteria and others harmful. When your child consumes sugary beverages, the bad bacteria feed on the sugar which creates acids that break down tooth enamel. If a child continues to consume sugary drinks, the bacteria can cause more extensive damage and affect the internal layers of the teeth. A cavity can develop when erosions create small holes in the enamel and/or dentin layers.

Sugary drinks not only attract bad bacteria in the mouth, creating dental plaque that clings to the teeth but also reduce the pH levels in the mouth. Lower pH levels result in a more acidic environment, meaning the more sugar that your child consumes, the stronger the acids become. Over time, the consumption of sugary drinks can expose the tooth roots and cause the gums to recede.

Drinks that are High in Sugar

There is much confusion over what beverages are considered healthy and which contain hidden sugars. It is common for parents to offer their children juice with the belief that it is a healthy option. While more nutritious than soda, many juices contain just as much sugar. For example, a 12 oz can of Coke contains approximately 39 grams of sugar, while 12 oz of unsweetened apple juice contains 33 grams.

Did you know that milk also contains sugar? The lactose found in dairy milk is a form of sugar. If left to sit on your child’s teeth, milk can contribute to cavities. The effects of milk can be even more detrimental to your child’s teeth when drunk from a bottle or sippy cup. Sipping on a bottle or cup of milk exposes the teeth to sugars for a prolonged period of time, especially when children are allowed to fall asleep with a bottle.

Tips to Prevent Tooth Decay

While many factors can contribute to oral health problems in children, sugary drinks and snacks are a common culprit. To help keep your child’s teeth free of decay, implement the following tips in your home:

  • Do not allow your child to fall asleep with a milk bottle or sippy cup in their mouth.
  • Encourage older children to drink from regular cups instead of bottles or sippy cups to limit their exposure to sugars.
  • Reduce the amount of milk and juice you give to your child. Supplement nutrients with other healthy foods, such as cheese, yogurt, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
  • Help your child maintain good oral hygiene, including regular brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash.
  • When indulging in a sugary drink, have your child drink from a straw to limit the sugar’s contact with their teeth.
  • Give your child a cup of water to drink after a sugary drink to help rinse off the teeth and lower the pH level in the mouth.
  • Have older children drink water instead of milk or juice to limit their sugar consumption.
  • Switch your child’s toothbrush to an electric version as electric toothbrushes are more effective at scrubbing away plaque.
  • Ask your child’s pediatric dentist about sealants to create a protective barrier on the teeth until the enamel has fully developed.
  • Take your child to a pediatric dentistry office at least twice a year for a professional checkup and cleaning.

Contact Ponte Vedra Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics

Your child’s diet plays a key role in their overall health and wellness. At Ponte Vedra Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics, our team of dental professionals provides children with quality dental care to keep their teeth healthy and beautiful. For more information about our services or to request an appointment, call us today at (904) 373-5120.