Are your kids snacking too much? They may be at higher risk of dental decay

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A joint study between researchers from two universities in Scotland revealed that snacking is significant factor in determining a child's risk of dental decay by the age of five years old.

If you thought your child was safe from tooth decay because she brushes her teeth diligently three times a day, we have some news for you. It may not be enough, mums. Research suggests that brushing teeth only partly protects children from dental decay caused by sugary snacks.

Experts strongly associate dental decay with children’s snacking habits, one study of around 4,000 preschool children revealed. The study was published in the Journal of Public Health.

What contributes to dental decay?

Another thing parents have to look out for is their child’s snacking habits. The study showed that children who snacked all day, compared to children who just ate meals without snacks in between, tend to have dental decay.

The researchers also found that simply relying on brushing alone to avoid dental decay in children under five is not sufficient.

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Parental involvement

The study found that socioeconomic factors also play a role in warding off dental decay in children. These factors may include a parent’s educational attainment. This made a significant difference in children’s tooth decay compared to diet or oral hygiene.

Even though primary teeth are temporary, the researchers said “good oral hygiene habits are set in childhood, and this relates both to diet and tooth brushing.”

Social scientists from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow worked together to study this connection. Based on what they’ve gathered, they were able to predict dental decay in kids by the age of five.

Learning better dental hygiene at a young age

Researchers collected data from the repeated observation of children aged two to five, focusing on their diet and oral hygiene. 

Their research found that the less frequently kids brush at two-years-old, the more likely they will have dental decay at five-years-old. This is in contrast with those who brush their teeth twice a day or more.

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Limiting sugar intake

At the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science, lead researcher Dr. Valeria Skafida said she’s all for limiting sugar intake. She said restricting sugar intake has a positive impact on children’s dental health and nutrition.

“Even with targeted policies that specifically aim to reduce inequalities in children’s dental decay,” she said, “it remains an ongoing challenge to reduce social patterning in dental health outcomes.”

A matter of public health

Co-author Dr. Stephanie Chambers from the University of Glasgow’s social and public health sciences unit, is confident that teaching children better oral hygiene reduces dental decay risk.

“Among children eating sweets or chocolate once a day or more, tooth brushing more often — once or twice a day or more — reduced the likelihood of decay compared with less frequent brushing,” she said.

How you can encourage your kids to brush their teeth

Some kids will try to wriggle out of the habit of brushing their teeth because they’re not conscious of their oral hygiene yet. But there are ways in which you can encourage kids to take care of their teeth.

1. Set a good example

Kids haven’t set their routines and habits yet, so they will take behavioural cues from you. Set a good example by treating dental care time as a fun activity. Show them how you do it, and how you do it properly, while making it seem cool and fun.

2. Use a dissolving agent as an introduction to dental care

You can ask your dentist for dissolving agents (usually in tablet form) or where to buy them. The agent turns pink anywhere there’s plaque in the kid’s mouth. This can be a fun way to look at tooth decay and see how the agent reacts and changes colour. This will help kids notice how much plaque their teeth has and indicate which parts need more attention. It’s also great fun!

3. Get Messy 

Children love a good mess. So toothbrush time can work to your advantage. Since toothpaste makes a lot of bubbles, you and your kid can get messy brushing your teeth together. It’s fun for the kids to see you join them too.

4. Let them customise their toothbrush

Ask them to pick the colour of toothbrush they’d like, or perhaps a particular design. This makes them invested in the process and let’s them have control.

5. Have fun

Kids don’t like to be forced into doing something that feels like a chore. So make brushing a fun activity you can do with your kids. Celebrate and compliment them for doing a good job in cleaning their teeth.

YOU CAN ALSO READ: Toddler meal plans: A guide for parents to easily plan their child’s feeding schedule.