The use of sugar-free alternatives in place of classic full-sugar treats can provide benefits with regard to reducing sugar intake for children, but should not be considered completely safe to kid’s dental health. When developing sugar-free treats, many of these sweet alternatives are high in citric acid and other acidic substances. Acids wear down tooth enamel and make teeth more vulnerable to dental caries (cavities). This is especially true of gummy-style treats, which have the added stickiness factor that allows the acidic gummy candy to stick to and between teeth, enhancing the risk.
Pediatric dentists generally support the use of sugar-free chewing gum, often made with Xylitol, as a means of increasing saliva production and aiding the maintenance of oral health. Saliva is essential for weakening acids in the mouth and helping wash away food particles and bacteria. Sugar-free hard candy can be beneficial in moderation to promote saliva production, especially in patients with chronic dry mouth. Likewise, the use of sugar-free sweetener alternatives in beverages can go a long way in reducing unnecessary sugar intake.
Not all sugar-free treats are created equal, however, and parents must consider the risks and rewards of certain sweetener alternatives over others. Moreover, some products are marketed as sugar-free in that they are made without added sugar, but in fact contain significant quantities of naturally occurring sugars such as those in fruit juice. These sugars are just as damaging to a kid’s dental development and health as table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Breakfast cereals and syrups are available in full-sugar and sugar-free varieties but many are made with corn syrups and high-carbohydrate ingredients and should be eaten in moderation.
Many do not realize that carbohydrates of all types are sugars and an excessive consumption of white breads, pastas, and similar high-carbohydrate foods can adversely affect dental health even if no table sugar is consumed. The best way to allow children to enjoy these foods is to encourage healthy dental hygiene habits early and often. Teach children to floss and brush after consuming sugars and high-carbohydrate foods and beverages, and when brushing isn’t an option, they can at least rinse the mouth with water to reduce damage.
For more information on managing children’s dental health, contact our skilled pediatric dentistry office at 817-569-6633 today!