How early taste for sugar ruins children's teeth
Irish dental surgeries are "brimming" with children showing signs of irreparable tooth decay because of their intake of sugary drinks and treats.
Too many parents are still passing on their own weakness for sweet things to their children when they are just infants by putting sugar in their feeding bottles, said Dr John Walsh, Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry in the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI).
"From the very start the child is getting a taste for sugar and it is perpetuated by them starting on supposed vitamin drinks in belief it is doing them good. T hey have a high sugar content, even those that are supposed to be 'baby-kind'."
It means a child can be "bombarded" with sugar and the more frequently they consume it during the day, the more they are at risk of cavities, he told the 'Current Controversies in Dental Practice' conference hosted by the RCSI.
"If you have a child who has something for breakfast with sugar in it and have another sweet snack, followed later by a soft drink for lunch it means there is acid constantly in the mouth. That is how you get cavities."
He advised that if children are given sweets it is best to give them at mealtimes. It means that saliva is being formed and it has a neutralising effect. "It is also better to give them all at once rather than dividing them out."
The problem is also linked to childhood obesity, which is on the rise here. "If we reduce sugar intake not only will you have a benefit in terms of dental decay but also in controlling their weight."
Dr Walsh said the other worrying trend is the use of sports drinks by young athletes. "It causes two problems. Firstly they are high in sugar content and they cause another problem of erosion, where the enamel of the teeth is worn away by the acid. If you think about it, those sports drinks have a top on the bottle which you pull out and then suck on it. It is the same as when a baby gets a bottle. If they are put to bed with a bottle at night you tend to get a lot of decay. It is pooled around the teeth and causes cavities.
"The constant swigging on that bottle is a problem," he warned.
Dr Walsh said that although there is much more information about how to keep teeth healthy and advice on giving children more savoury snacks, the reality is that over-consumption of sugar is likely to be getting worse.
"We still have a strong taste for sugar and it is difficult to overcome it. The promotion of drinks plays a major part in it. Parents are trying to be kind to their children but they are storing up problems for them."
He said he is a strong believer in the benefits of fluoridation in the water supply. "Studies consistently show those living in areas with fluoridated water have 18pc less tooth decay than those living in non-fluoridated areas," he added.