Soft Drinks and Your Child’s Oral Health

soft drinks and your child's oral health

Soft drinks are everywhere and are an extremely popular beverage choice for thousands of Americans. In fact, a recent Gallup poll noted that 48% of Americans drink an average of 2.6 soft drinks per day. Unfortunately, soft drinks are not exactly the best beverage option for either you or your child’s overall and oral health. Not only are soft drinks associated with contributing to obesity and type-2 diabetes, but they are also associated with an increased risk of tooth decay and gum disease. 

a pile of sugar cubes in focus with a blurred child drinking soda in the background

The primary reason why soft drinks can increase the risk of obesity, type-2 diabetes, tooth decay, and gum disease are their excessive amounts of sugar. From an oral health prospective, a diet high in sugar is a dentist’s nightmare. This is because sugar is the primary food source of the bacteria responsible for causing tooth decay and gum disease. When your child consumes sugar, these bacteria also consume sugar. Not only does this allow them to survive and reproduce, but it also means that the bacteria will produce waste products that are deposited on the tooth enamel. These waste products are highly acidic and will wear the enamel away over time, leading to a cavity. Furthermore, when large amounts of bacteria accumulate along the gum line, they can cause the gums to be infected. 

While this sounds destructive enough, large amounts of sugar are not the only threat that soft drinks pose to your child’s oral health. Another problematic ingredient that soft drinks contain are acids such as tartaric, phosphoric, or citric acid. Soda is known for being acidic and generally contains one or more types of these acids. Even fruit juices and sugar-free soft drinks still generally contain varying amounts of acid. Just as the acidic waste produced by bacteria will erode tooth enamel, so will the acids found in soft drinks. Not only that, but these acids can also cause cavities to progress faster. 

While most pediatric dentists would agree that the best course of action is to eliminate soft drinks from your child’s diet altogether, this is not always a realistic expectation. With that being said, there are some things you can do in order to minimize the damaging effects of soft drinks on your child’s oral health: 

Limit Quantities

Even if you cannot eliminate soft drinks completely, limiting the amount of soft drinks your child consumes is an effective way to decrease the damage soft drinks have on your child’s oral health. Try to encourage your child to drink more milk or water on a daily basis, and save the soft drinks for special occasions. That way, they become a treat rather than part of daily life. 

young girl drinking out of a crazy straw

Time Them

In addition to limiting how many soft drinks your child consumes, another way to protect their oral health is by limiting the amount of time spent drinking a soft drink. This is because the damaging effects of soft drinks start with the first sip and continue for about 20-30 minutes after the last gulp. Therefore, children who leisurely drink soft drinks for hours are more likely to damage their teeth compared to those who drink soft drinks quickly. While you don’t need to rush your child, it is recommended not to let them “nurse” a soft drink all day. 

Give Them a Straw

Having your child drink their soft drinks through a straw is another way to reduce the damage done to their teeth. Drinking through a straw helps to direct the fluid directly towards the back of the mouth, which limits the amount of contact that sugars and acids have with the teeth. You can make this fun by purchasing silly straws. 

Have Them Rinse After

Once your child has finished drinking their soft drink, you can encourage them to rinse their mouth out with water or milk. This can be as simple as having them drink a few sips of water or milk. This helps to flush out the sugars and acids, which decreases the amount of damage done. 

Schedule Regular Cleanings

Finally, scheduling regular dental cleanings for your child every six months is especially important if they drink soft drinks. Your child’s pediatric dentist can examine their teeth for potential dental problems that may arise from drinking soft drinks. Not only that, but they will also clean your child’s teeth, which removes excess bacteria to reduce the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. 

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