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Although school offers food for thought among the nation's children, school lunches and snacks are not as nutritious for their teeth, reports the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).
Researchers have concluded that dietary habits of school children encouraged an increase in sugar intake, leading to a greater risk of cavities.
Over a 15-month period, researchers tracked the dietary habits and monitored the teeth of 43 preschool children before and after the start of school. Results of the study show that 59 percent of the students who had consumed sugar four or more times or ate two or more snacks between meals at age 5, increased to 83 percent at age 6, a 24-percent increase.
The average number of decayed, missing or filled teeth and initial cavities of these children jumped from 9.7 to 15.3 cavities, an increase of 5.6 cavities within one year. Over the 15 months of the study, the percentage of cavity-free school children dropped from 23 to 19 percent.
"This study substantiates that diet is an important part of proper oral health," says AGD spokesperson George McLaughlin, DMD, clinical associate professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, New Jersey Dental School, who has noticed in his own practice an increase in tooth decay and cavities in teenagers, which may be caused from their preteen eating habits at school.
The easiest way to prevent your children from further decay and cavities at school is to monitor their eating habits, recommends Dr. McLaughlin. "Make sure the children don't squirrel away sugary snacks to take to school or eat snacks between meals." He also advises parents to teach their children the importance of a healthy diet and healthy teeth.
"Also, parents should find out what their child's school lunch program offers," said Dr. McLaughlin. "If programs do not offer healthy alternatives, talk to the school about incorporating healthy lunches or snacks." If this approach is not effective, offer your children healthy snack alternatives such as bite-size carrots, fruits or foods that are naturally sweetened. Avoid candies, chocolate, caramels, soda, chocolate milk and other foods that contain refined sugar.
"Of course, having your child avoid cavity-causing food at all times is nearly next to impossible," says Dr. McLaughlin. If your child is going to eat snacks or candy at school, at least have them abstain from the sticky, chewy candy, which tends to linger on teeth throughout the day. "After eating sugary snacks at lunch, your child should brush and rinse with water or eat a piece of fruit."
Finally, Dr. McLaughlin suggests parents consider sealants as an early alternative to protecting children from cavities. Sealants are a thin coating of bonding material applied over a tooth and can be applied as soon as the child's first permanent molars appear. The procedure is cost-effective, easily applied and a barrier from cavity-causing bacteria.
Reviewed: January 2012
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