While there is a large choice of lunchbox items that are easy to buy and pack and may appeal to a child’s picky palate, they may not necessarily be the best thing for overall health and dental health. It’s a situation that concerns many dentists, especially because of childhood caries (tooth decay). Even though tooth decay is a preventable disease, it’s estimated one in four children in Australia aged between five and 14 have cavities in their teeth. Even worse, more than 70% of children eat too much sugar every day.
Sugars and Tooth Decay
Sugar is a known cause of tooth decay, and these sugars feed bacteria naturally present in the mouth. As they feed and thrive on these sugars, bacteria produce a weak acid that gradually erodes tooth enamel, the tough outer coating of teeth that helps protect them against decay.
Eventually, enamel erosion occurs to such a degree that it creates a hole or opening in the tooth, allowing these harmful bacteria to penetrate the dentine underneath. Dentine is much softer than tooth enamel, so a large cavity can develop quite quickly. Sometimes a tiny hole in tooth enamel can hide a much larger cavity underneath. As the cavity gets bigger, it reaches the central part of the tooth called the pulp chamber, containing the nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissues. At this stage, the tooth will begin to feel sensitive and most likely quite painful, causing a serious tooth infection. Anyone who has ever experienced a tooth infection will know the resulting toothache is highly unpleasant.
Reducing a child’s sugar consumption is key in helping to prevent tooth decay. However, choosing the right foods isn’t always obvious, especially for a lunchbox. Tiny snack boxes of sultanas that are easy and enticing to eat for children often seem healthy, but dried fruit is packed with hidden sugars. It’s the same story with fruit juice, as a single serving can contain more than double the daily recommended sugar. But there are some easy ways you can make your child’s lunchbox more tooth-friendly, and we’ve listed a few tips below to get you going.
Tips for Choosing Healthier Foods for Your Child’s Lunchbox
- Instead of buying chocolates, biscuits or crisps, look for fresh seasonal fruit and perhaps pick something new and interesting for them to enjoy. Alternatively, pack some baby carrots or other precut veggies along with a plain yoghurt-based dip or hummus.
- Try not to include too many snacks high in saturated fats or sugars. Typical culprits include granola and muesli bars, doughnuts and cake.
- Replace that fizzy drink or energy drink with plain water. Get your child to choose a colourful refillable water bottle to make it more enjoyable.
- Instead of fruit juice, includes your child’s favourite fruit. Good choices include crunchy apples containing lots of fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Pack a snack-sized cheese or cheese slices as these contain plenty of calcium that can help harden your child’s teeth, making them more resistant to tooth decay.