A child who brushes their teeth after every meal and doesn't consume a lot of sugar might still get rotten teeth. But why?
For decades this has baffled parents who thought they were doing all they could to protect their children's teeth.
Today, research has uncovered some answers after the University of Auckland and Starship Children's Hospital examined information collected by the country's largest longitudinal study of child development, Growing Up in New Zealand.
It turns out refined starches – such as white bread, rice, noodles, and some breakfast cereals – can be just as damaging for children's teeth.
The study – funded by the Starship Foundation – cross-referenced dental records of more than 4000 children with information about their dental hygiene and food consumption, which was collected when they were 2 years old.
Lead author on the study, University of Auckland public health physician, Dr. Simon Thornley, said the biggest surprise was the strong link between refined starches and dental decay.
“This should inform our oral health promotion work in this country because many people would not be aware that frequently consuming foods such as white bread, rice and noodles could put children at greater risk of dental caries,” he says.
Foods with greater risk included white bread, white rice, noodles, refined breakfast cereals, fruit juice, sugar-sweetened soft drinks, ice cream, confectionery, and cake.
Thornley said colleagues who had researched dental care in Cambodia – where rice and noodles were a staple of their diet – found similar results.
Comparatively, the study found a lower number of dental caries in children who had a frequent intake of wholemeal or whole wheat bread, vegetables from the brassica family such as broccoli, and cheese.
The study authors note that behaviors associated with fewer dental caries included:
• Brushing teeth more regularly
• Parental help with tooth brushing
• Brushing teeth after a snack or a drink.
Thornley said it was positive to learn that three-quarters of all children studied had no cavities at their first community dental appointment.
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But ethnicity and socioeconomic status were strongly associated with tooth decay.
Pacific children were four times more likely than Pākehā children to have four or more dental caries at their first community dental appointment. Asian and Māori children were twice as likely to have four or more dental caries at their first appointment.
“The link between socioeconomic status and diet reinforces what we've learned from other research that poverty and deprivation mean people are less likely to be able to afford good quality food that is nutritious and beneficial for overall health, including oral health.“
Pediatric dentist at Starship Children's Hospital, Dr. Katie Bach, said thousands of New Zealand children faced hospital treatment every year because of tooth decay.
“Dental caries is the leading cause of avoidable hospital treatment for children in this country and action is needed to ensure that children do not have to endure potentially invasive oral surgery.“
I think it's really important that parents have as much information as possible so that choices are available and we know how to best protect our children. So buy no refined food or cook more healthy stuff. It's for your children… It's for our future.
This article first appeared on NZ Herald.