We all want what’s best for our children, and their health is of particular concern and focus. Often, we see articles and news reports that advocate eating certain foods over others or warning us to watch out for hidden sugars in snacks. Recently another warning has been issued, this time directed at the hidden dental health risks for infants and children triggered by fruit juice. If your infant is at the stage where they are developing teeth, they are old enough to have tooth decay. That’s right. For toddlers and even infants, the biggest threat to dental health is tooth decay and it’s often exacerbated by surgery fruit juice and fruit juice drinks.
In a 2017 study published by American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), fruit juice and juice drink sales have declined. Likely this is due to competing beverage options, as well as increasing public awareness of healthier options like consumption of whole foods and fruits, rather than sugary substitutes. However, the study does suggest that children and adolescents continue to be the highest consumers of juice and juice drinks. In fact, their data suggests that children 2 to 18 consume nearly half of their daily fruit intake as juice which lacks dietary fiber. Taking that a step further, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no fruit juice for children under one year as it affords no nutritional benefit.
So why is fruit juice bad? Most parents simply do not monitor their child’s dietary intake to ensure proper consumption and often turn to fruit juice and juice drinks as a go-to solution to pacify a thirsty child thinking it is better than soda. In fact, most fruit juice drinks can have as much sugar as a soda.
So, what is the proper guideline? The AAP recommends that human milk or prepared infant formula be the only nutrient fed to infants until about 6 months of age. They also suggest to completely avoid the introduction of juice for an infant before the age of 1 unless otherwise medically indicated. If then, the recommendation is to only give the juice in a cup, not a bottle to help protect the infant from baby bottle tooth decay.
Just about everything young children drink, from milk or formula to apple juice contains sugar. Most often, when a child drinks from a cup, the sugar in these drinks moves quickly through the mouth, past the teeth and causes little harm. However, when a child consumes these beverages by sucking them from a bottle, the sugars linger in the mouth and quickly form into harmful bacteria. Over time, these bacteria develop into acid which eats away at tooth enamel. This can be particularly damaging to newly emerging baby teeth.
If you must put baby down at night or for a nap with a bottle, the recommendation is plain water. To help protect teeth, parents can should also wipe baby’s teeth and gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or washcloth after having milk. When a child’s first tooth comes in, they should gently brush with a child-size toothbrush and non-fluoride toothpaste and schedule their first pediatric dentist or at least by age 1.
The AAP also suggests that fruit juice and fruit drinks are over consumed in toddlers and young children aged 1 to 6 because it is assumed these drinks are nutritious, they are convenient and they “taste good.” In most instances however, children should be encouraged to consume better options. The introduction of proper dental hygiene habits, and regular dental checkups are crucial to good oral health and parents should schedule their child’s first visit to the orthodontist by age 7.
What about older kids, age 7 to 18? Juice consumption presents fewer nutritional issues for older children because they typically consume less of these beverages. Nevertheless, intake of juice should be limited to 8 ounces a day, or half of the recommended daily fruit servings. Kids should be reminded to brush their teeth twice daily (especially if they have braces) and always, encouraged to drink lots of water.