Looking after children's teeth is a top priority for parents, but it's sometimes difficult to know which foods and drinks are best. A good brushing and flossing routine is essential for good dental health, but it's also important to think carefully about the things your children consume during the day. Fruit juice has several potential health benefits for children and adults alike, but some parents may worry that the drink is harmful to teeth. Learn more about the risks and benefits of fruit juice, and find out how to steer your children towards the healthiest drinks for their teeth.
The drinks that destroy teeth
Nowadays, parents can buy many types of soft drink for their children, but some types of beverage can harm your children's teeth. Acidity in soft drinks can erode the hard, protective enamel layer on the teeth, leaving the tooth susceptible to decay. What's more, the damage that acidic drinks can cause happens surprisingly quickly. Researchers in the University of Adelaide, Australia found that lifelong damage to teeth can occur within the first 30 seconds after your child starts drinking an acidic drink.
Carbonated (fizzy) drinks, sports drinks, smoothies and fruit juice are all acidic. Fizzy drinks are among the worst type of drink to give your child. During an acid attack, the teeth often start to feel fuzzy because your child's body cannot combat the acidity. That aside, the amount of acid varies from one type of soft drink to another, and parents often struggle to spot the healthier options.
The conflicting messages about fresh fruit
Fresh fruit and vegetables are essential to a healthy, balanced diet. Indeed, the United States government publishes recommendations about the amount of fruit and vegetables you should consume daily, based on your age, gender and level of physical activity. A lot of children won't eat whole fruits or vegetables, and fresh juice is often a more palatable alternative.
That aside, excessive consumption of fruit can also have harmful effects, and some types of fruit are less healthy than others. For example, dried fruit has less water than fresh fruit and often has a sticky texture. This can cause problems for your child's teeth because the bits of fruit can help harmful bacteria grow. Similarly, some nutritionists warn that fresh, pulped juices leave mainly water and sugar, which can increase the drink's acidity.
So what should parents do?
What research says
In the United States, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey aims to understand more about the dietary habits of adults and children in America. Researchers analysed information about 2,290 children from different backgrounds, to see if there was a link between diet and dental health. The researchers concluded that children who drank four to six ounces of pure fruit juice each day did not suffer an increased risk of tooth decay.
The research clearly shows that 100% fruit juice is a healthy option, especially compared to juice drinks. One of the challenges in this area is that manufacturers often package and advertise fruit juice drinks as though they are an equally healthy option. Researchers highlighted that children who consumed these juice drinks did see problems with tooth decay, due to the added levels of sugar or sweeteners.
That aside, parents cannot allow children to drink as much fruit juice as they like. Indeed, some children may not see any health benefits from fruit juice.
Advice for parents
The American Academy of Pediatrics publishes guidance for parents about the healthiest ways to serve fruit juices. Important considerations for parents to note include:
- Fruit juice is not beneficial to children younger than 6 months old.
- Fruit juice is no better than whole fruit for children over 6 months old.
- 100% fruit juice is a good addition to a healthy, balanced diet.
- Children should still only consume fruit juice in moderation. Excessive consumption can still lead to tooth decay. Parents should allow children up to the age of 18 to consume no more than 2 servings per day.
Other habits can influence tooth decay when your children drink fruit juice. For example, sipping drinks slowly increases the time acid is in contact with teeth, so it's a good idea to finish the drink quickly. Some dentists also recommend that children drink through a straw, to avoid contact between the juice and the child's teeth.
Similarly, cleaning your teeth straight after drinking a soft drink can harm the teeth because the brushing action can further erode softened enamel. Dentists recommend that you avoid brushing for at least 30 minutes after you drink juice.
It's often difficult for parents to get a healthy balance in a child's diet. Studies show that fruit juice will not necessarily harm your child's teeth, but it's important to make sure kids drink these products in moderation or they may require dental implants later in life.