That Sugar Movement


Snack limits and dental caries in kids

170203_TSF_BlogHero_01Brushing one’s teeth is important. The build-up of plaque provides a home for cheeky bacteria that when they come into contact with sugar, produce an acid that destroys tooth enamel, leading to dental caries (a.k.a tooth decay).

Therefore, too much added sugar ain’t great for the chompers.

It is recommended to limit intake of added sugars to 5% of total energy intake a day (in the average adult is 25 grams/6 teaspoons of sugar) to minimise risk of dental caries over a lifetime.1-2

And it begins as kids. So, we should be encouraging our littlies to consume less of the sweet stuff.


Eating habits, practices and behaviour are strongly influenced by a child’s parents or caregivers, and therefore the child’s health – including that of their teeth – can be correlated to eating practices and parenting behaviours in the home.3-5

This implies we can take action and support the health of kids teeth by limiting what kids have access to when wanting a snack.6

A recently published study out of Brazil examined for dental caries and plaques of 686 4 and 5-year-old children, and also assessed the meal and snack practices in the children’s homes.

45.6% of the kids had untreated dental caries. And those whose homes limited unhealthy snacks tended to have less tooth decay.

Parents or caregivers of each child were asked a variety of statements pertaining to mealtime practices, and asked to answer with either yes, sometimes, or no. Those around snacks were:

  1. “You set limits for how many sweets the child could have each day”
  2. “You set limits for how many sodas the child could have each day”
  3. “You set limits for how many salty snacks the child could have each day”

The ‘snack limit’ items where parents and caregivers only sometimes or never set limits were significantly associated with increased rates of untreated dental caries.

Where there were limits, there was less tooth decay, independent of other factors such as visible plaque, tooth brushing frequency, child’s age, monthly household income or parent’s or caregiver’s level of education.

Seemingly harmless, snack time – like morning tea, afternoon tea or post-dinner – can actually be a large provider of added sugar. Especially if they involve sugary drinks like soft drink, sports drinks, flavoured or powdered milk drinks, iced tea or juice, or foods like biscuits, cake, or confectionary.

But it is important to remember that seemingly healthy foods may also provide a good serve of sugar, such as flavoured low-fat yoghurt, muesli bars, muffins and cereal.

Yet it has been suggested that with clear rules and control over snack availability in the home, the health outcomes for kids is improved.7

Whilst the occasional treat is fine, consuming a heap of sugar throughout a day, day in day out will increase the risk for health issues for the child. And remember that applies to grown-ups too!

So, make life easier to encourage good food habits in the littlies by practising what you preach, and sub-out the heavily processed packaged, high-sugar foods for real food snack time.

Try out the following:

  • Grapes or berries – they can be a delicious frozen snack too!
  • Infused water with slices of lemon, lime, some berries and fresh mint
  • Homemade no added sugar snacks, like cacao cookies or banana bread balls
  • Apple or pear slices with 100% peanut or almond butter
  • Boiled egg
  • Slices of cheese and carrot sticks
  • Cucumber, capsicum or carrot sticks with hummus or pesto

If your child is accustomed to lots of sweetness, it may take at least two weeks for taste buds to adjust to the subtle sweetness found in real whole foods like fruit, so be kind to yourself and your kid, and be patient.

We’ve plenty of recipes and inspiration in our Low-Sugar Snacks e-book and on the website!

Finally, if you notice yellow or black cavities forming, and/or if there is any pain or difficulty eating, check in with your dentist as soon as you can. And have a good look at what is being snacked on for added sugar content – the little chompers will thank you!

By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)



  1. Moynihan, PJ & Kelly, SAM 2014, ‘Effect on Caries of Restricting Sugars Intake: Systematic Review to Inform WHO Guidelines’, Journal of Dental Research, vol. 93, no. 1, pp. 8-18.
  2. Sheiham, A, & James, WT 2014, ‘A reappraisal of the quantitative relationship between sugar intake and dental caries: the need for new criteria for developing goals for sugar intake’, BMC Public Health, vol. 14, p. 863.
  3. de Jong-Lenters, M, Duijster, D, Bruist, M, Thijssen, J, & de Ruiter, C 2014, ‘The relationship between parenting, family interaction and childhood dental caries: A case-control study’, Social Science & Medicine, vol. 116, pp. 49-55.
  4. Petty, MLB Escrivao, MAMS & Souza, AAL 2013, ‘Preliminary validation of the parent mealtime action scale and its association with food intake in children from Sao Paulo, Brazil’, Appetite, no. 62, pp. 166-172
  5. Wijtzes, AI, Jansen, W, Jansen, PW, Jaddoe, VW, Hofman, A, & Raat, H 2013, ‘Maternal educational level and preschool children’s consumption of high-calorie snacks and sugar-containing beverages: Mediation by the family food environment’, Preventive Medicine, no. 5, p. 607.
  6. Bonotto, DV, Montes, GR, Ferreira, FM, Assunção, LS, & Fraiz, FC 2017, ‘Association of parental attitudes at mealtime and snack limits with the prevalence of untreated dental caries among preschool children’, Appetite, vol. 108, pp. 450-455.
  7. Gevers, DM, Kremers, SJ, de Vries, NK, & van Assema, P 2015, ‘Patterns of Food Parenting Practices and Children’s Intake of Energy-Dense Snack Foods’, Nutrients, vol. 7, no. 6, pp. 4093-4106.
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