In the second of five blogs, Steve Lomas (Practice Partner at Old Surgery Dental Practice) shares an article he recently wrote for his doctor so he could advise his patients on how to look after their children’s teeth. Part 2 deals with the importance of regulating sugar intake, and explains how frequency is often far more of an issue that what is actually being eaten.
This is really important, and rarely understood. How often food is taken in is commonly far more problematic than what is taken in. I tend to find children with frequent decay are the ones who have lots of little meals or snacks during the day instead of three or four larger ones.
- Every time a sugary snack or drink is taken, the plaque bacteria produce acid. We call this an acid attack. This acid attack typically lasts 20-30 minutes after eating or drinking. During this time the enamel becomes very slightly soft. Your saliva is very slightly alkaline and is responsible for neutralising the acid and also allowing the enamel to re-harden. It takes the saliva 20-30 minutes to achieve this. The less plaque there is, the less acid and the quicker the acid can be neutralised
- The teeth can withstand up to four acid attacks per day without facing any significant decay risk. Put simply a good breakfast, lunch and dinner without snacking or drinking sugary drinks in between is the healthiest option for our teeth
- One of the most important habits I created with my own children was to get them into eating three good meals from an early an age as possible to stop the mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack as a daily feature
- Children (and adults) with the most frequent decay are the ones who have lots of little things throughout the day. For example, a small breakfast at 8am gives a 30 minute acid attack, with the teeth being back to normal by 8.30. However a quick sugar containing drink or a biscuit at 9am gives another 30 minute attack, a little mid-morning sugary drink or snack give another attack and so on, so a child having lots of little things can quickly achieve multiple acid attacks every day, significantly increasing the risk of decay
- Each meal is counted as one acid attack as long as it is not too drawn out. Therefore my children eat a surprising amount of chocolate or small sweet treats as desert. They are not deprived of goodies, they just get them at the end of a meal, when they are already pretty full, and in the middle of an acid attack any way. They only rarely have fizzy drinks, but if they do it is with a meal, never between. So they are not deprived, just safely controlled
- Chewing gum is essential (adults especially on this one). This raises a few eyebrows now and then, but chewing gum used well is very effective in helping prevent decay, especially when out and about. I do not expect anyone to be perfect, but I do expect everyone to cheat properly. If my kids (or I) do take a sweet snack or drink in between meals or when out, I always give them a piece of sugar free chewing gum straight afterwards. This has two beneficial effects, it plucks food debris out of the surface of the teeth, helping to clean them, and also more importantly lets the brain think they are still eating and so saliva production rate stays high, which neutralises the acid much more quickly. This really shortens the duration and effect of the acid attack. My children now know what to do, when and why
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