Early in June I remembered that I had a dental radiology license that needed renewing by the end of the month, and in order to renew it, I needed 30 hours of continuing education (yikes!). Thankfully, acquiring the hours wasn't as bad as I anticipated since I was able to finish them online during nap times and in the evening.
One of the courses I took, Interviews with the Experts, Key Topics in Dentistry Today, spent a few minutes talking about parenting and children's dental health. Although nothing that Dr. Lott shared was ground breaking, I think some of it is worth sharing.
As a side note, unlike most of my other posts where I spend time examining published research, this post is different since I will only be summarizing "expert opinion". Expert opinion is an important way that we know things, but it is not as reliable as certain other ways of knowing. (Sometime I'll have to write a post about the hierarchy of evidence.) For this reason, you won't find a list of references at the bottom--I'm simply reporting on one pediatric dentist's opinion.
With that disclaimer, one habit that greatly contributes to the demise of oral health is sipping and snacking. I'm not particularly great at controlling this in my life (to be honest, I have quite a sweet tooth), but it truly is important. As a mom, I certainly see the appeal of feeding kids food throughout the day to keep them happy and quiet (especially when under social pressure!) but as a former dental professional I cringe inside when I consistently observe it.
The concept that Dr. Lott talked about to combat sipping and snacking was the idea of "bundling". If your child drinks juice or eats dessert, bundle it with the meal. Don't eat lunch, let your child play for an hour, and then offer dessert, but let them eat it all at the same time. Don't let your child sip on juice throughout the day, but instead, treat it as a part of their meal. One reason this is so important is that your teeth don't care that much about how many fermentable carbohydrates (e.g. sugars, starches, fruits) they are exposed to at one sitting, but rather how often they are exposed. Perhaps think of it like a cut that you get on your hand, if you wash it and then leave it alone it will get better much quicker than if you don't wash it but instead irritate it every half hour and rub dirt on it multiple times during the afternoon. Obviously the illustration only goes so far, but the point is that certain foods weaken your teeth, and prolonged exposure only exacerbates the problem. (Mayo Clinic has a reasonable explanation of how tooth decay forms.)
Like most habits that we want to discourage in our children, it's important to take a look at what our habits are. Take the sippy cup, for example. Do you have an adult version of the sippy cup? We know that it's best for the toddler to not carry a cup with juice in it around all day, but do I do this in my adult way? I prefer to sip on coffee throughout the morning, but really, I ought to bundle it with my breakfast, or at least drink it in one prolonged sitting when I'm doing my morning devotions.
When thinking about sipping and snacking, for me, it's not just the immediate disadvantages that bother me, but it's the habit that you're fostering, a habit that your child may struggle with for his entire life.