Dental decay

Natural and added sugars in food and drinks can cause holes in teeth (dental decay). Bacteria in the plaque on teeth makes acid from the sugars and this acid can dissolve the surface of the teeth.

In between eating, the saliva in the mouth hardens the teeth again. Holes in teeth are caused by eating and drinking sugary foods and drinks too often.

Holes can be caused by:

  • falling asleep with a bottle of milk or juice in their mouth - leaving the teeth coated in fruit acids and sugar while they are asleep.
  • sipping small amounts of fruit juice, fizzy drinks or sugary cordial drinks from a bottle or sipper cup throughout the day. This causes the teeth to be bathed in acids and sugar over a long time.
  • eating biscuits, muesli bars, dried fruit (raisins) and sweets often - keep these for occasional special treats, perhaps once or twice a week.

The best message is: give teeth a rest. Give the teeth time for saliva to harden and protect them in between eating and drinking.

Healthy eating = healthy teeth

Children need small meals and 2 or 3 nutritious snacks each day. Choose protein-rich snacks, and foods which stimulate saliva flow.

The best time to eat sweet foods is at the end of a meal. Try to use low-sugar snacks between meals such as fruit, fresh vegetables, yoghurt and other dairy foods.

Water is the preferred drink to give children, apart from milk. If you want to give fruit juice, dilute it with water. Give it in a glass or cup and not a sipper bottle. Avoid soft drinks, sports drinks and undiluted fruit juice.

What does dental decay look like?

  1. Early childhood cavities start as chalky white spots (areas of demineralisation) on the surface of the tooth, near the gumline.
  2. This is followed by yellow or brownish discolouration. As the dental caries progresses, the spots become larger and the surface of the tooth breaks to form a hole or several holes.
  3. Continuous patches form a black or dark brown collar around the tooth. The tooth may be rough or pitted at this stage.
  4. As the condition advances, the breakdown continues towards the chewing surface of the tooth. Eventually the tooth breaks off, leaving only the decayed root stump.

Thanks to Colgate and the NZ Dental Association's Healthy Smiles for their contributions.

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