Preventing dental problems in children 

As well as making sure that your child brushes their teeth correctly and visits the dentist regularly, you can take steps to help prevent tooth decay and erosion.

Babies

Some of the things you can do to help keep your baby's teeth healthy are outlined below.

  • When your baby starts eating solid food, encourage them to eat savoury foods such as vegetables and pasta, rather than sweet or sugary foods. A baby is not born with a sweet tooth and will only develop a taste for sugary foods if they are given them regularly.
  • Mashed banana, breast milk or formula milk can be used to sweeten food if necessary.
  • If you are using ready-prepared baby food, check the label and choose ‘sugar-free’ foods or foods with no added sugars or sweeteners.
  • Never dip your baby's dummy in anything sugary, such as juices or syrups.
  • If your baby is bottle-fed, only use formulated baby milk or plain water.
  • Squashes, flavoured milk and juice drinks should not be given to young babies because they are high in sugar and can cause tooth decay.
  • Fizzy drinks should also not be given to babies or toddlers because they can damage the teeth. 

Children

The advice below will help prevent tooth decay in children.

Sugary foods and drinks

Regularly eating and drinking sugary food and drink is the main cause of tooth decay in children. Therefore, it is important to carefully monitor the types of food and drink that your children have in order to help keep their teeth healthy.

It is more damaging for your child to have sugary food and drink regularly than it is to consume a large amount of sugar in one sitting. Frequently having sugary food and drink increases your child's risk of getting tooth decay because their teeth are repeatedly exposed to the damaging sugar.

Below are some more tips to help prevent sugary food and drink affecting your child's teeth.

  • When you want to reward your child, do not give them treats such as chocolate bars, sweets or cakes. Instead, give them things such as stickers, comics or pens and paints.
  • Fizzy drinks and natural fruit juices are high in sugar. Give your child water, milk or sugar-free squash instead. If you want to give your child a sugary drink, do not do it regularly and dilute it with water first. It is better to give sugary drinks at mealtimes rather than between meals.
  • Replace sugary snacks with foods such as carrot sticks or apple pieces. Although some fruits contain natural sugars, they are far less damaging to children's teeth.
  • Finishing a meal with some cheese is a good way of neutralising any sugars or acids.
  • Avoid letting your child sip sugary drinks or suck sweets too often. This is because the longer the sugar is in contact with your child’s teeth, the more damage it can do.

Read food labels

Many processed foods and ready-made meals contain hidden sugars. It is therefore important to check food labels to find out how much sugar they contain. Sugar comes in many forms, so look out for the following ingredients:

  • glucose
  • sucrose
  • honey
  • dextrose
  • maltose
  • fructose
  • hydrolysed starch or syrup

Don’t worry about memorising this list, a basic rule of thumb is

if the word ends in “OSE” it is a form of sugar.

Ingredients are usually listed in order of the amount used, with the main ingredient listed first. If sugar (or one of the ingredients above) is near the top of the list of ingredients, it will mean that the food is high in sugar.

Some products use the traffic light system on their labels to show whether they are high or low in sugar. The traffic light system indicates the following levels of sugar:

  • red light: high
  • amber light: medium
  • green light: low

In general:

  • High in sugar is more than 15g of sugar for every 100g of product.
  • Low in sugar is less than 5g of sugar for every 100g of product.
Also check the labels of any medicines you give your child to see whether they contain sugar. Always ask your doctor or pharmacist for a sugar-free alternative.