The Dental Health Foundation read with interest the ‘Learner Dad’ article by Pat Fitzpatrick: “As long as other people gave their kids more sugar than we gave ours, we assumed we didn’t have a problem”, about his daughter’s recent experience of tooth decay (Irish Examiner, Feelgood, October 18).
Tooth decay and its treatment is traumatic for a child, it may result in pain, lead to infection and result in hospitalisation and extraction of teeth under general anaesthetic. Those that experience decay in baby teeth are more likely to have future dental problems.
Tooth decay is caused mainly through regularly eating or drinking sugary substances and incorrectly cleaning the gums and teeth. It’s important to highlight, as explained by Mr Fitzpatrick’s dentist, that it’s not the quantity of sugar in food or drink that causes damage to teeth, it’s the frequency of your sugar consumption.
In order to avoid health risks like weight gain and tooth decay, the World Health Organisation recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than roughly six teaspoons per day. For good oral health there is no such thing as a healthy sugar, and this applies to added sugar as well as sugar naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices, and concentrates.
The Irish ‘Food Pyramid’ is designed to enable us all to make healthier food choices. Food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt, are not needed for good health, or to be consumed every day, and a maximum of once or twice weekly. It’s a good idea to read food labels carefully for sugar content, less than 5g per 100g is low sugar.
A sometimes-forgotten fact is that fruit contain acids, which can erode your teeth. It only causes damage to your teeth if you eat an unusually large amount. While both fruit and vegetables are healthy snacks to eat between meals, be mindful of consuming a lot of dried fruit, as it’s high in sugar and best avoided between meals.
A small glass of either unsweetened smoothie or fruit juice should count as a maximum of one of your five-a-day for fruit/veg and consumed at mealtimes as crushing fruit into juice also releases the sugars contained in the fruit, which can cause damage to teeth so even unsweetened fruit juice and smoothies are sugary.
The key message for parents/carers from the Dental Health Foundation is to, minimise sugary snacks and drinks, help your child brush their teeth twice a day, and visit the dentist at least once a year.
Public Affairs & Communications Manager Dental Health Foundation
This reader's opinion was first published in the print edition of the Irish Examiner on 23 October 2019