Most people know sugar and sweets are bad for our teeth. But many parents are surprised when they find out their children are suffering from tooth decay – even though they think they’re limiting the amount of sugar their little ones eat and drink.

The reason is we often don’t realise how much sugar is hidden in our everyday foodstuffs.

Natural doesn’t mean sugar-free

Products labelled “natural” or “no-added sugar” may seem innocent enough. But they often contain high amounts of sugar. A fruit smoothie can contain six teaspoons of sugar. But you won’t find the word ‘sugar’ on the list of ingredients.

Most parents want the best for their children, and so giving them ‘healthy’ snacks like yoghurts or dried fruit seems like the right thing to do. These healthier options may contain vitamins and nutrients, but they can also be high in sugar. Even honey, although natural, is still sugar.

Hidden sugars are often to blame

Cereal bars, flavoured yoghurts, fruit juice, cordials/squash, and dried fruit are the biggest culprits when it comes to hidden sugars. Sugar comes in many different forms, but parents should be on the lookout for any ingredients ending in ‘ose’ e.g.

  • Sucrose
  • Dextrose
  • Maltose
  • Fructose
  • Lactose
  • Glucose

How to limit the damage to teeth

The best advice to parents is to read the labels, watch out for hidden sugars, and don’t buy high-sugar products. It’s much easier to say no to a child if you don’t have sugary foods and drinks in your home in the first place.

To find out how much sugar is in food or drink, look for “Carbohydrates (of which sugars)” on the nutrition label:

  • High – over 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
  • Low – 5g of total sugars or less per 100g

Much of the damage done to teeth is when sugar is “drip-fed” all day long through snacks and drinks between meals. So limit sweet treats to meal times only. Other tips to are:

  • Encourage children to drink plain water or milk
  • Never put juice or pop in a bottle
  • Offer savoury snacks such as crackers and cheese

Tooth decay is a preventable disease that causes unnecessary pain and distress to children. Decay can also cause problems with developing speech, chewing food and self-esteem. Regular dental check-ups (every six months from their very first tooth coming through) and limiting sugar in children’s diets are vital if we want to protect them from oral health problems.