Fruit Juice & Kids’ Teeth

Quick: Which is healthier, Coca-Cola or 100% grape juice?

Okay, that was too easy. Try this one: Which contains more sugar, the Coke or the grape juice?

Believe it or don’t, it’s the juice. In fact, most fruit juices contain at least as much sugar as your typical soft drink. While they also contain some vitamins and minerals, they’re mainly concentrated sugar.


Boy drinking juice, Tamaki Sono; flickr

That’s why juices are typically lumped in with sweetened soft drinks. They’re often highly acidic, as well – and we recently saw how a one-two punch like that can damage teeth.

So it was surprising to see a recent study in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) find that 100% juice does NOT seem to contribute to early childhood caries (ECC) – a common condition of severe  tooth decay in the very young.  About 28% of American kids have ECC, though rates are considerably higher for Mexican-American and black children, as well as children from low income groups.

The JADA study had other surprises, too. “Interestingly,” reports Forbes,

the researchers didn’t find any differences in juice intake among children in poverty (below the federal poverty guidelines) and those in higher economic groups (at or above 300% federal poverty level), but those in the middle drank slightly less fruit juice. The authors also didn’t find any differences in consumption based on sex or race/ethnicity.

And the researchers found no link between 100% juice consumption and caries. Even in looking at how much children drank, those drinking more than 6 ounces a day (about 39% of the kids) had no more dental caries than those drinking no juice or less than 6 ounces.

Thus, conclude the study’s authors, “dental practitioners should educate their patients and communities about the low risk of developing caries associated with consumption of 100 percent fruit juice.”

At the same time, they still recommend limiting consumption to no more than 6 ounces a day.

That recommendation is in line with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ latest policy statement on children’s oral health.  They also say to avoid drinks that are not 100% juice and limiting sweet drinks to mealtimes.

What it’s not in line with is how much juice the typical preschooler drinks: about double the recommended max.

It’s also above the World Health Organization recommendation that no more than 5% of a person’s daily calories come from sugar – though as a recent study noted, even that may be too high for good oral health. Analyzing public health records, researchers found that

even among children,…moving from consuming almost no sugar to 5% of total daily calories doubled the rate of tooth decay. This rose with every increase in sugar intake.

With that in mind, we think it best to make juice a “sometimes” treat, not a habit.

Glass of juice, Bepple;  flickr

Here are a few more tips for helping children develop healthy habits and good oral health:

  1. Don’t let your child sleep with a bottle. If you do, fill it only with unfluoridated water.
  2. After feeding, clean infants’ gums with a soft, damp washcloth or gauze. (Believe it or not, decay-causing bacteria can be found in infants’ mouths before they even have teeth!)
  3. Once your child is old enough for solid food, limit processed carbs (for example, cereals, crackers, bread).
  4. After your child’s first tooth erupts – no later than their first birthday – take them for their first dental visit. A dentist will be able to talk with you about any emerging concerns, and the early exposure helps your child start to be comfortable with the whole dental experience.
  5. As your child’s teeth begin to erupt, regularly brush them gently with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush lightly smeared with fluoride-free toothpaste.
  6. When your child is age two or three, begin teaching them how to brush their teeth. Make brushing after every meal a habit.
  7. As soon as any two of your child’s teeth touch each other, begin flossing their teeth regularly. By the age of six, they can learn how to floss correctly  on their own.

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