teethAs if we needed more confirmation that what we eat affects our oral health, a new study in the Journal of Dentistry pounds the point home: In children and adolescents, tooth decay is greatly influenced by diet. And it’s the usual culprits at work: soft drinks, acidic foods, sweets, and fruit juice (a double-whammy of sugar and acid).

All those foods are deeply damaging to tooth enamel. Without that protective outer layer intact, the tissues within are vulnerable to infection, to decay. (Deficiencies in certain nutrients during tooth development can also impair tooth structure, making them more vulnerable to decay.)

Dairy, on the other hand, was found to have a more protective effect – as research has broadly and consistently shown.

Yet many teens actually think that products like sports drinks and other sugary, acidic foods are healthier choices. (Thank you, Marketeers!) And so they consume them. A lot. One 2010 study in Pediatrics, for instance, found that 28% of teens claimed to drink three or more sports drinks daily. That’s more than 100 grams of sugar a day just from the drinks alone – double the maximum WHO recommendation and far, far, far above the 3% of daily calories that’s the max for preventing caries.

A more recent study – this, in the BDJ – found that nearly 90% of teens consume sports drinks, with half drinking them at least twice a week.

The mere fact that sports drinks are frequently consumed socially amongst groups of adolescents does not bode well for their future health. It is fair to assume that the high levels of sugars and acids will not only contribute to an increase in dental caries and erosion but also to general health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, in frequent sports drinks consumers.

But it’s not just the Marketeers who may encourage outcomes like this. Kids’ perceptions of healthy or good food is greatly influenced by their parents’ food choices and methods of controlling behavior through food. As one study in Health Education Research put it some years ago,

a positive parental role model may be a better method for improving a child’s diet than attempts at dietary control.

Yet parents often find themselves directed toward snacks with hidden additives like sugars. Take a look at what’s typically handed out after a football game or at a school Fun Night. It’s pretty rare to find a parent who brings fresh fruit or vegetables and skips the sugary drink. (At sporting events, the kids should have already brought water, right?).

Yet there are plenty of healthy, real food options out there. Here are a couple of particularly helpful posts we’ve found to get your imagination going:

Image by Alena Navarros-Whyte, via Flickr

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