Kids & Cavities: Little-Known Causes
In the last ten years of patient care, I have been able to observe many patients of different age groups. Until I had children, I never understood why they had such an elevated frequency of cavities than adults. It didn’t make sense to me how teeth that had only been in the mouth for a few years could develop cavities at such a fast rate. Why wasn’t I seeing the same decay rate in my teenage and young adult population? After all, they were drinking the same fluoridated water present in Hillsborough County, and eating food from the same grocery stores and restaurants. Of course, there are a multitude of variables when it comes to diet, but in my experience, the trend overrides social factors. All kids like junk food!
It never really hit home until I had two children of my own, or as I like to think of them, food vacuums. My children want to eat constantly. If it were up to them, they would never eat more than two bites of food at a time. And what do they like to eat? Meat? Fish? Nuts? Squash? No way. All that they want is chips, crackers, and sweets. The trouble is, these high carbohydrate snacks can be damaging at the frequency that kids want to eat them. Every time they have a bite of one of these snacks, there is a 40-minute “oral acid attack”.
The mechanism is as follows: any carbohydrate present in the mouth (whether it be gummy bears or crackers) gets chewed up, and the bacteria that are within every mouth consume that carbohydrate and produce acid as waste. That acid, in turn, dissolves the enamel of the teeth and causes dental decay. Before they even have time to rebound from the last snack, they are reaching for something else. The more often it happens, the more likely the destruction will lead to a visible or palpable cavity. Letting children fall into this habit is a recipe for cavities at their next checkup.
My original solution was to put everything up high where my kids couldn’t have constant access to the carbs. Now that they are getting a little bit older, they can just drag a chair over and help themselves. So that solution didn’t work.
A better way to control the snacking is to make children eat 3-4 larger meals per day and then restrict the snacks to lower carbohydrate foods. It takes time to get them use to this new way of eating. If they want a snack, that’s ok. But now it’s going to be cheese, eggs, yogurt, nuts, or another lower carbohydrate option. If they want to have their crackers or sweets, I recommend incorporating those into their meal. They should drink water with meals and also with snacks. Water helps to flush the food off of the teeth and dilutes any acid attack that occurs during eating.
One more tip, but it's a hard one for many parents to incorporate. NO JUICE! I know… we all grew up drinking OJ and apple juice and we survived. I even still have all of my teeth! But guess what? Two of my teeth have crowns and one of them has had a root canal! All because of big fillings that I had done as a kid, probably before I was ten years old.
I’m not suggesting that children shouldn’t be able to eat carbohydrates; they are a part of our normal lives. If anyone should eat them, it should be kids (they burn it off)! This is just a way to mitigate the risks of pediatric cavities and hopefully save you some coin the next time you come to visit me. I am always available to field any questions or offer nutritional counseling for you or your family.