79670298When it comes to things kids love to eat, sugar clearly ranks at or near the very top. But just like staying up past their bedtime or watching an extra half an hour of TV at night, parents must debate where to give in and where to draw the line regarding what their kids want. Unlike other behaviors, however, parents need to consider the potential long-term health impacts their children face as a result of eating too much sugar.

What’s in That Snack?

Every time kids, or adults, eat a snack that contains sugar or starch (carbohydrates), bacteria in the mouth uses these substances as fuel to produce acids that attack tooth enamel. These acid attacks can least up to 20 minutes at a time. Since a lot of snacks marketed towards children contain high levels of sugar, that’s a lot of punishment a child’s still developing oral health has to take with each bite or sip.

A single non-diet can of soda contains up to 10 teaspoons of sugar, while a bottle of SunnyD, for example, contains more sugar (11 grams per 6.75 oz.) than fruit juice (just 5 percent by volume). Even the carbohydrates found in kid favorite snacks like Goldfish crackers and Lunchables offer oral bacteria a smorgasbord of fuel to produce acids with.

You may think that packing a child’s lunch with fruit will serve as a healthier solution, but sugar is sugar whether it comes from raisins or a Fruit Rollup. In fact, raisins can actually represent a bigger threat to a child’s oral health than other snacks due to the fruit’s tendency to stick to teeth after eating.

Beating the Sugar Bug

So what can parents do in order to let kids have their cake and eat it too? The first step isn’t just to ban sugar from the kitchen, but to monitor when a child is allowed to have a sugary snack.

When a part of a larger meal, the affect sugar and carbs have on oral health is diminished because the mouth produces more saliva. Saliva acts as the body’s natural defense mechanism from the acids produced by oral bacteria by washing food particles and acid away from teeth.

However, when foods high in sugar are eaten alone, such as having a cookie or cup of juice in the late afternoon before dinner, the body produces much less saliva, which allows for the acids and food particles to remain on teeth for longer periods of time.

So what can parents offer kids as a suitable snack between meals? Consider stocking up on dairy products such as cheese, milk and yogurt, all of which contain things that are good for the health of kids’ teeth. Everything made from milk offers a great source of calcium, a vital nutrient for the development of strong teeth and healthy gums.

Some studies have even shown that eating cheese may actually help protect teeth form the effects of decay through a process known as remineralization.

Finally, parents need to make sure their kids take their oral hygiene seriously. This means kids need to brush and floss at least twice a day to enjoy the best oral health possible, especially if they eat any sugar throughout the day.