Snack and sip all day? Risk tooth decay: Children’s Dental Health Month tips

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Sharon Palmer
  • 90th Medical Operations Squadron Dental Flight
Staff Sgt. Sharon Palmer
90th Medical Operations Squadron Dental Flight

February is National Children's Dental Health Month, and the 90th Medical Operations Squadron Dental Clinic would like to share some helpful information when it comes to children's oral health.

When thinking about snacking, consider these questions: do I let my children sip on juice, soda or milk for long periods of time? What snacks do they take to school? How often do my children eat sugary sweets? Remember that nutrition and tooth decay affect people of all ages.

We all remember being a child and hearing "you had better eat your veggies -- it's good for you!" or a favorite parent phrase: "Don't eat that, it'll rot your teeth!"

Children have a variety of food choices -- ranging in healthiness from fresh produce to sugar-heavy convenience foods. What people let themselves and their children consume may affect not just their overall health, but specifically, their oral health.

The nutritious beverages and foods people consumed in times past have been replaced with more junk food and drinks. Children's teeth are at a higher risk for decay when they consume sugary foods and drinks, especially when they snack throughout the day. This is commonly called "grazing" and usually includes foods with very little nutritional value, such as sipping slowly on sugary drinks.

When sugar is consumed in large amounts, teeth are exposed to harmful effects. When people consume sugar, the bacteria in their mouths use it as food. The waste product of these bacteria is a kind of acid that dissolves the calcium from tooth enamel, causing a cavity. This is called an acid challenge.

Not all sugar can be avoided and should not be eliminated from one's diet. Many foods contain important nutrients that we need for a healthy diet and for strong teeth. It is important for parents to plan a carefully balanced, nutritious diet for both themselves and their children.

Some ways to help reduce children's risk of tooth decay:

-Sugary food/drinks should be eaten with a meal. This will limit the amount of acid challenges occurring in children's mouths, which lowers the risk of cavities.

-Limit snacks between meals as much as possible. Offer nutritious alternatives to sugary snacks.

- Instead of soft drinks or juice, children should drink water and low-fat milk.

- Children's teeth should be brushed two times a day. Parents should help their children brush their teeth until they are capable of tying their shoes, and then watch them brush until approximately 8 to 10 years old.

- Parents should teach their children to floss their teeth by doing it for them until they are old enough to do it themselves.

- Remember to get regular dental checks!

For more information, visit the American Dental Association website at