Reducing tooth decay - Better Lives Healthy Futures

Reducing tooth decay

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Sugary food and drinks can cause tooth decay and pain, impacting on your child's health and wellbeing

Each time we eat sugary food and drink, the bacteria in dental plaque produce acid that attacks teeth. If we eat or drink sugary foods frequently throughout the day we have more ‘acid attacks’, which can lead to tooth decay.

Top tips to reduce the risk of tooth decay

Children get a lot of sugar from fizzy drinks, juice drinks, buns, cakes, pastries, biscuits, breakfast cereals, yoghurts, sweets, chocolates and ice cream – reducing these will help reduce the risk of tooth decay. Follow these top tips:

Eat a healthy diet, replacing sugary snacks with fresh fruit, vegetable sticks, cheese and crackers, pitta bread and humous, bread or toast. Only give sweet foods (including dried fruit) at mealtimes.

Photograph of a jug of water with added fruitEncourage your child to drink water or milk. It’s easy to add a pop of colour and make water look and taste interesting – pop in some chopped fruits like frozen berries, kiwi and apple – just avoid citrus fruits.

The more children like their water bottle the more likely they are to drink from it too, so why not buy a plain re-usable water bottle and let your kids decorate using colourful marker pens.


Photograph showing examples of sugar free fruit drinksReduce cola, juice drinks, milkshakes or fizzy drinks – give your child water, lower-fat milks, sugar free or no added sugar drinks instead. Only give soft drinks at mealtimes and limit the amount of fruit juice and/or smoothies your child drinks to a maximum of 150 mls (one portion) per day.

No added sugar does not mean that the drink doesn’t contain sugar. All fruit juice contains sugar as it is present naturally, but once broken down it becomes a free sugar which can cause damage to our teeth.

Always ask for sugar-free medicines. Sugar free painkilling medicine containing paracetamol or ibuprofen can be given to relieve teething symptoms in babies and young children aged three months or older. They can also be used to relieve toothache.

If children are on frequent medication which is not sugar free, this can lead to problems with tooth decay. Any medicines containing sucrose, lactose and glucose contains a form of sugar, they should be avoided in between mealtimes

Ensure your child brushes their teeth regularly – get more information on brushing teeth, fluoride and what to do if tooth brushing is difficult.

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Further information

Healthier Families

The NHS Healthier Families website has information on healthier food swaps, sugar calculator, salt and fat recommendations, recipes, activities and children weight guidelines.

Dietary advice to prevent tooth decay

This video has helpful tips from a dentist on preventing tooth decay in children.

Growing up with healthy teeth

This video looks at what we can do to help our children grow up with healthy teeth.

The facts about sugar

Children are consuming more than twice the amount of sugar they need. Get the facts and learn how to be sugar smart on the NHS Change4Life website.

Oral health for 5-12 year olds

Lots of useful information for parents and carers about child oral health and nutrition on the Child Smile website.

Related topics

Healthy eating

Healthy eating is important for healthy growth and development.
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Brushing teeth

Regular brushing will help your child to avoid tooth decay
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Visiting the dentist

NHS dental treatment for children is free for children under 18
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Oral Health service

Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust's Oral Health team offers a range of programmes including fluoride varnish applications and a toothbrushing programme delivered in primary and special schools.
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