Many parents are aware of the fact that sticky, hard, sugary snacks are not friends of their children’s teeth. So, it’s no surprise that parents often don’t want their kiddos enjoying too many Jawbreakers, caramels, and taffies, for instance. These foods have the capability of cracking or chipping the teeth and/or can get easily lodged within and between the teeth (that’s a cavity just waiting to happen!). If parents can avoid this fuss and this expense, then they’re certainly going to do everything they can to make that happen. However, a lot of parents aren’t aware of a particular incompatible combination. What is it, you might ask? Caffeine and kid’s teeth. That’s right: children’s teeth and caffeine are a nightmare waiting to happen.
Children’s Caffeine Consumption in the U.S.
Before discussing the harms of caffeine on children’s teeth, let’s talk about how many children are exposed to caffeine in the United States.
Did you know that most parents give their children caffeine in some shape or form on a daily basis? It’s true.
In Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a March 2014 article entitled “Trends in Caffeine Intake Among US Children and Adolescents” mentioned some facts about U.S. children and their caffeine intake.
It turns out, approximately 73% of the children researched consumed caffeine every day. Not surprisingly, soda was the main source of the caffeine intake among these children. Interestingly, coffee consumption among children more than doubled from 1999-2000 to 2009-2010. What is more, 6% of that caffeine intake accounted for energy drinks.
Why These Statistics are Scary
Each of these sources not only contain high amounts of caffeine but are often packed with sugar. Bacteria in your children’s mouth love sugar, by the way. Not to mention, some forms of caffeine, such as energy drinks, offer concerning effects outside of the health of the teeth such as potential cardiovascular problems, sleep disorders, and mental health issues. A problem in one part or system of the body can eventually lead to problems elsewhere. It’s an unsettling and never-ending cycle until something is done about it.
Truly one of the best ways to ensure your children have healthy teeth and are healthy overall is to be mindful of what they consume. If their mouth is healthy, they have a better shot of being healthy everywhere else (although not guaranteed).
What’s the Problem with Caffeine and Kid’s Teeth?
Children’s teeth and caffeine are not the best duo, that’s for sure.
One of the biggest risks of consuming too much caffeine is the fact that it can cause detrimental effects on the enamel layer of the teeth. The enamel layer helps protect the teeth from acid attacks and cavities. However, because caffeine (and the sugar content often found in caffeinated products) feasts on the enamel, this could put the teeth in a vulnerable and dangerous state. The acidic state alone of these drinks is unnerving.
Regular, excessive caffeine consumption, especially for years, can not only lead to enamel erosion but also:
- Thin and brittle teeth
- A higher risk of cavities
- Tooth sensitivity
- Stained teeth
- Halitosis (bad breath)
These effects can be uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking, and even embarrassing for adolescents. No parent wants their children to grow up feeling insecure, getting bullied by their peers, or having to deal with a painful oral health condition. Luckily, these negative effects can be avoided as much as possible with a proper dental routine and mindful consumption.
Kid’s Teeth are More at Risk Than Adult Teeth
Caffeine and kid’s teeth are a particular disastrous combo. The earlier on you introduce caffeine into your child’s life, the more likely this consumption will become a lifelong habit. When parents give their child caffeine every day, this inscribes into the child that caffeine is a safe and normal part of life. This is even more so true due to the mere fact that caffeine has an addictive nature. This also can make it difficult to cut the habit. Sadly, early introduction of caffeine means your child will be exposed to it for a longer period of time. In turn, this can lead to an even higher risk of dental problems in the future. Why would the child want to stop now? Caffeinated beverages are just too delicious!
You might assume that children’s teeth and caffeine aren’t as big of a deal as it’d be to adults and their teeth. Therefore, you might not understand the harms it has on children’s pearly whites. In reality, the effects are even stronger as children’s teeth are more vulnerable in their early stages. This is particularly true since children, tweens, and teens aren’t as careful with their teeth as adults. (Heck, they’ll do anything to get out of brushing their teeth.) In addition, if your children grow up with unhealthy baby teeth, say, due to the excessive consumption of caffeine, this can create an unhealthy environment for their future adult teeth. A bad headstart can cause so many problems.
Why would any parent want to set their child up for failure? Now is the time to set your child up for a bright dental future.
Getting Your Child to Cut the Caffeine
Once you introduce caffeinated beverages like soda and energy drinks to your littles, it’s difficult to get them to drop the habit. The fun flavors, artful packaging, enticing commericals, affordable prices, and the desire to look “cool” around their peers make caffeinated drinks appealing to youngsters. But what you must understand (and what your children must realize too) is that caffeine and kid’s teeth are not a good match.
The best way to cut the tie between your children’s teeth and caffeine? To not introduce it from the start. Or if you do introduce it, offer it in a way that implies that drinks with caffeine are a treat, not something to have daily.
If your child is already having caffeine multiple times a day, it’s fortunately not too late to intervene. Offer beverages like kombucha, flavored sparkling water, low-sugar and caffeine-free soda alternatives, fruit-infused water or herbal infusions, or flavored hot or iced tea. These are less harsh on your kid’s teeth. It’s not as difficult to find alternatives that don’t contain any or as much caffeine and contain less or no added sugar as you might think.
It’s also not a bad idea to have a talk with your child about the harms of caffeine and their teeth. Encourage them to at least cut back a little. For instance, if they consume three sodas a day, see if they can cut that down to one soda a day. Every little bit of reduction helps.
If your son or daughter is already experiencing dental problems due to caffeine intake, a pediatric dentist can help. The sooner you take them to an emergency dental appointment, the more likely treatment will be a success.
Whether your child consumes caffeine or not, the power is in your hands, parents. Yes, children and teens can get soda and other caffeinated drinks from friends or the store. And they will not always be within your sight and living under your rules. However, you can set a good example now and encourage the consumption of healthier drinks. So, play your part as a teacher, good role model, and parent.