Antibiotics, Vitamins, Bottled Water and More: 6 Surprising Cavity Causers for Kids

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Many parents don’t realize that several non-food items can also cause tooth decay.

You’re aware that regular brushing is essential for good dental health (as well as closely monitoring your child’s consumption of sweet treats) but what else should you keep in mind to help them avoid cavities? The truth is, many parents don’t realize that several non-food items can also cause tooth decay, explains Dr. LaQuia Vinson, mom and dentist for Riley Children’s Health. Here, she shares a few surprising saboteurs.

  1. Antibiotics: When offered as a liquid, antibiotics are often formulated to be sweeter so they are more palatable for kids, explains Dr. Vinson. “For instance, we often see this with amoxicillin and the gooey pink preparation. To make it sweeter, ingredients that contain the sugars like sucrose and fructose are often introduced  in some liquid antibiotic offerings and these compounds can promote tooth decay.” Her recommendation: Brush your child’s teeth immediately after these drugs are administered, especially, she says, if before bed, (since letting the liquid coat and stay on a child’s teeth over time can cause tooth decay). And what if your tot has little to no teeth? “Their developing teeth and gums still need to be cleaned,” explains Dr. Vinson. “So, use a warm, wet soft washcloth to wipe the inside of their mouth.”

  2. OTC Meds: Think allergy, cold and cough syrups. “While many of these items have been made dye free, they still contain sucrose or fructose, and these sugars can harm a child’s teeth, so the same rules apply” she says.

  3. Gummy Vitamins: Kids tend to enjoy these products since they look very similar to fruit snacks, says Dr. Vinson. “They also generally have the same flavoring and texture. Unfortunately, gummies stick to teeth. They get caught in their grooves and then often just sit there and promote decay until they are physically removed using a toothbrush.” Her advice: “I ask parents to consider hard chewable vitamins instead, or if not, then to have their child take the gummy vitamin with a meal.” Why? “The textures of the other foods in that meal can help grind down the gummy vitamin’s coating and remnants on teeth to minimize the chance of potential problems,” she says.” “Taking this or any vitamin with meals and then brushing after both, also helps your child start the day with clean, healthy teeth.”

  4. Bottled Water: While this beverage is quickly becoming the preferred choice for many people at home, traditional tap actually contains natural stores of tooth-strengthening fluoride—something most bottled beverages do not offer, explains Dr. Vinson. So, consider integrating tap water into more of your kitchen and cooking routines, she suggests. One important exception: Infant formula. “Most of these products already contain levels of fluoride, so if you are using tap water to mix them your child may be consuming too much of this compound, which can be dangerous.” Her advice: For infant formula use bottled water only, for everything else, consider tap.

  5. Dried Fruit: Most parents think dried fruit is healthy but this food contains high stores of natural sugars which can wreak havoc on a kid’s teeth, she says. “Raisins,” explains Dr. Vinson, “for instance, contain high amounts off natural sugar which can coat and weaken a tooth’s structure over time.” Her advice: Like all things, dried fruit and other sweet foods are best eaten in moderation and in one setting. “Letting your child graze all day is unwise since anytime we consume a food, it creates an acid that coats our teeth and this compound can be destructive when we constantly expose the mouth over time.”  To more swiftly dilute food acid and sidestep dental issues, Dr. Vinson suggests drinking water during and immediately after meals and snacks.

  6. Organic Foods: Just because something is labeled organic doesn’t mean it won’t harm a child’s teeth—you have to look at the item’s ingredients and scan their labels for sugar, too, says Dr. Vinson.

Lastly, while we all know that thorough brushing is essential to maintaining good dental health for all ages, when is a child old enough to brush on their own?  “We tend to say 8 years old, or when a child can independently tie their own shoes,” says Dr. Vinson. “That is an indicator of strong manual dexterity which is needed for optimal brushing.”

-- By Sarah Burns

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