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Children 0–2 years

Dental health focus

Oral health and nutrition have a very synergistic relationship; if we impair our functional ability to eat, we in turn also affect our diet and nutritional status.

Dental health risk factors

  • Children are at the highest risk of developing oral health problems. Adequate nutrition is essential both pre- and postnatally to aid the normal growth and development of the oral cavity.
  • Maternal malnutrition can also impact upon the oral health of the unborn infant. Craniofacial malformations such as cleft lip have been associated with certain lifestyle factors of a mother such as her cigarette smoking, alcohol intake and folate status. It is especially important to reinforce the benefits of increasing dietary folate, as well as the recommended supplementation regimen during pregnancy..

Dental caries are a particular disease of children and is a major cause of tooth loss. They are often linked to a habit of giving children sweet drinks in feeding bottles, which may also be taken to bed, or dummies dipped in honey or jam to pacify the child.

Dietary factors affecting children’s dental health

Food form

Liquids usually washes around the mouth and are disposed of relatively quickly.
Solids may crunch and stick in and around gaps and cavities.
Sticky foods tend to stick around teeth and are longer lasting.

Frequency of consumption of sugars and other fermentable carbohydrates

Sweetened beverages or highly processed starchy/sugary foods
eg. Most snack foods. It is preferable to reduce the consumption and especially the frequency of sugar containing food and drink, especially soft drinks and fruit juices.

Potential to stimulate saliva

Chewing stimulates saliva production. Offering children raw vegetables as snacks helps to stimulate saliva, protecting their teeth from carie formation.

Nutrient composition of foods and beverages

Dairy foods such as cheese, milk and protein containing foods provide calcium and phosphorus which provides a buffer to acidic foods.

Sequence of eating foods and beverages

Fermentable carbohydrates have less potential to cause decay when eaten with cereal and/or milk, rather than when they are eaten alone as a snack. Milk is an ideal beverage as it helps to reduce the adherence capability of some foods.
The buffering capacity of milk and cheese makes them desirable foods to eat at the end of a meal, or in combination with other foods.

Duration of exposure of teeth to food and beverages

Every time fermentable carbohydrates are consumed there is an associated decrease in pH within 5-15 mins of consumption, this acidic environment can then be maintained for up to 30 minutes.

If you would like to contact us about a wellness check with your child we can look at their total carbohydrate intake, in particular the balance between their intake of different sugars, dietary fibre and hydration and offer suggestions to improve their oral health and general nutrition.

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »

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