As a dentist for kids in Lakewood, our team at Advanced Family Dental wants to help parents understand what it takes to establish a solid foundation for their kids’ oral health to develop. Unfortunately, many parents don’t think enough about their kids’ oral health during the early stages of development. Since baby teeth are meant to be temporary, parents can be easily lulled into thinking that what happens early on during a child’s oral health development doesn’t matter. This results in parents making questionable decisions that can negatively impact their child’s long-term oral health, especially when it comes to a child’s diet.
By the age kids start school, 20 percent of children in the U.S. qualify as being obese and 23 percent of kids have untreated tooth decay. Both of these conditions negatively impact children, their families, and can persist well into adulthood. To determine whether the feeding patterns of infants and young children impact tooth decay and obesity in early childhood, researchers from Western Sydney University conducted a study.
The research team began collecting data on over 1,000 infants at the ages of two, four, and eight months. The team conducted follow ups by 1-2 years, 3-4 years, and finally 7-9 years.
While there exists global evidence that links obesity and tooth decay, researchers wanted to gain a better understanding of how big a role diet plays during a child’s early life and what impact the balance of healthy and unhealthy foods a child eats may have on their risk for developing tooth decay and obesity.
What Did the Study Reveal?
According to the research team, 12 percent of infants received ‘core’ foods prior to 17 weeks of age. Core foods (such as fresh veggies and fruits) are vital to meet an infant’s increasing developmental and nutritional needs. While these foods are a valuable part of a child’s diet, starting feeding at such a young age can cause problems for a child’s development.
Most feeding guidelines for infants recommend waiting until six months before introducing these types of foods into a child’s diet. “There’s a lot of global evidence that children who start solid foods before 17 weeks are at an increased risk of developing obesity, allergies, and other adverse health outcomes,” wrote the research team.
‘Discretionary‘ foods (those with a high salt, fat, or sugar content) are considered unhealthy and possess very little nutritional value. Most current recommendations state that parents should avoid feeding infants these types of foods before the age of 12 months. However, researchers discovered that an astounding 95 percent of infants were given these types of foods before they turned one.
“We observed that intake of core foods increased rapidly in the first year of life, followed by a decline in the frequency of intake after age two years, whereas the intake of discretionary foods progressively increased from the time of introduction until age three years,” wrote the research team.
The team also discovered that kids who continued to eat high levels of discretionary foods from a young age were twice as likely to become overweight or obese.
Diet Plays a Key Role
The results of this study highlight the important role diet plays in not only helping a child maintain a healthy weight but in helping to reduce their risk for experiencing tooth decay and developing cavities.
As a dentist for kids in Lakewood, our team at Advanced Family Dental wants to help parents understand the importance of diet when it comes to their child’s oral health. Obviously, foods high in sugar should be limited, but sugar is found in items parents commonly give their kids without much thought, such as fruit juice. When combined, kids whose diets contain more discretionary foods rather than core foods are more likely to develop oral health problems that could inhibit their physical and academic development.
Studies have found that kids who develop cavities and experience untreated tooth decay perform worse in school when compared to kids with healthier smiles. From time away from school to visit the dentist to trouble focusing due to dental discomfort, kids need a healthy smile to perform their best in the classroom.
If you have any questions about what a child’s diet can do to the health of their smile, feel free to ask our dentist for kids in Lakewood during your next visit to Advanced Family Dental.