Increasing hydration: or the risk of tooth decay?

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Our Oral Health Therapist Eliza recently received a newsletter from her son’s daycare which featured an article that captured her interest. 

I have always been very happy with the staff and the care that our son receives at daycare!  The centre emails out a monthly newsletter to keep parents updated on various events and seasonally relevant topics.  There is often a section with tips and advice on maintaining your child’s nutrition.  A recent article included information on the importance of adequate hydration and tips to increase your child’s hydration as we come into warmer weather.  However, as often is the case, these tips may sometimes help to solve one problem but could in fact contribute to another health risk for your child.  In this case – tooth decay!

The tips included ways to make drinking water more appealing to your child.  The article suggested: 

  • Adding a refreshing zing with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, or a few sprigs of fresh mint.
  •  Freezing ice cubes in unusual shapes or using a little brightly coloured juice such as cranberry juice to create coloured ice cubes to add to water. Using frozen fruit chunks as ice cubes were also suggested.  
  • Mashing a few raspberries or strawberries in the bottom of a glass and topping it up with fizzy mineral water.  
  • Mixing chopped berries or pineapple chunks into a jug of water and refrigerating for a few hours to allow the flavours to infuse.  

Flavoured, infused or sparkling water and flavoured teas have become a popular trend for making water more appealing to people of all ages. But,  is the more exciting taste worth the risk of contributing to tooth decay or acid erosion (dissolving enamel)?  There is so much sugar in modern-day food already and now we are being encouraged to alter the taste of water to make it more appealing to our children?  What if this means they never want to drink plain water again?   

As a dental professional, I see first-hand the effect that sugar and acid can have on our teeth.  The naturally thinner enamel of our children’s baby teeth puts them at an even greater risk of developing tooth decay.  

I would avoid anything besides plain water in your child’s water bottle wherever possible!

A few points to bear in next time you add anything to your children’s water include:

  • It may be considered healthy for their diet but from a dental perspective, anything besides plain water can be harmful to your child’s teeth. 
  • Fruit contains natural sugar and acid.  When added to water, this may create a drink with a similar sugar or acid content to fruit juice or soft drink.
  • Sugar and acid are harmful to tooth enamel.  Frequent exposure to sugar and acid increases the risk of developing tooth decay and/or acid erosion (dissolving enamel). 
  • Citrus fruits may have a greater risk of causing acid erosion (dissolving enamel) due to their high acid content.
  • Once you start adding something sweet to your child’s water it may be difficult for them to return to plain water! 
  • Moderation is key! Fruit still forms an important part of a healthy, balanced diet.  Limit snacking and drinks (that are not plain water) between main meal times where possible. 

Now as a parent myself I am also a realist.  My daughter was recently sick with the flu and a nasty fever and our GP stressed getting her to drink any form of fluid was vital to improve her hydration.  She was refusing water and even milk (which was very out of character for her). She also refused Hydralite iceblocks!  In desperation, I diluted some fruit juice for her which she was much happier to drink.  I also tried some flavoured water ice blocks (which were also a hit). 

Thankfully her hydration improved and she overcame her illness over the next few days.  However, now I am back to no juice, no sweetened drinks and find myself in quite a pickle!  She now has a taste for sweet drinks!  I am being persistent and not giving in, as I’m sure with time she will start guzzling down the plain water again!  

I can’t help but think that this must be how it starts for a lot of parents.  We change our rules when our kids are sick just to get the on the road to recovery as quickly as possible.  I guess the goal has to be that it doesn’t become the new normal, and we revert back to the best dietary habits for our kids’ nutrition and in this case their oral health too. ? ???