We spend a lot of time in our office reviewing the dietary habits of our patients, including what they’re drinking throughout the day. Although most parents in our office are well aware not to give their kids candy every day, the feelings about juice can be a bit more fuzzy. One this is for sure – juice packs A LOT of sugar per serving, and can be very dangerous in terms of causing cavities in children. Sometimes we even refer to juice as “liquid candy” because of the high sugar content and sweet flavor, but unfortunately it’s the beverage of choice for many young children. If juice is introduced at a very young age, the child may choose a preference of juice once they discover how delicious it is vs. never knowing it existed! For that reason, Dr. Erica, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend waiting until after age 1 to introduce any juice at all.
When fruit is used to make juice, all of the fiber and nutrients of the skin and pulp and tossed away, with only the sugary juice remaining. That is why even if a juice is advertised as 100% fruit juice or as no sugar added, it can still be trouble for teeth. Fruit is naturally a sugary food, but if you eat one whole apple the benefits of the fiber and nutrients outweigh the sugar insult to teeth, versus when a child drinks apple juice, they end up with several apples’ worth of sugar without the good stuff. We recommend looking carefully at the nutritional labels on the juice you buy – one organic juice box can pack 25g of sugar! Although you may think that organic juice is healthier than non-organic juice, they still can have the same high sugar content – the difference is just that the sugar was grown organically.
If your child is already used to drinking juice, it may be hard to switch them to only drinking water or white milk (our tooth-friendly beverages of choice for kids). A lot of parents will report diluting juice with water to help make it less sugary, but if they’re drinking the diluted juice throughout the day in several servings, it could actually be even worse than drinking full concentrated juice in one sitting. Our recommendation is to offer juice only with food once a day, preferably with a meal, and limit drinks in between meals to water or white milk. Other alternatives to juice that may still offer a sweet flavor that kids like, without the dangerous sugar, is turning to the many drinks available with natural sweeteners that don’t cause cavities. Some examples are brands like Hapi Water or Hint that offer fruity flavors without the sugar that can cause cavities.
Another category of dangerous beverages that we hear a lot about from our patients are sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade. These drink companies spend a lot of money on marketing to make us think that sports drinks are important for restoring electrolytes during exercise, but do not highlight just how sugary they are. One bottle of Gatorade has 36g of sugar, which is comparable to a can of soda in terms of sugar content! Our recommendation is to stick to water because it’s the best way to hydrate during any physical activity, and if you’re worried about electrolytes just grab a handful of peanuts or another salty snack on the sidelines. Our mouths dry out during exercise, and that’s the worst time to add sugar to the equation because dry mouths are more susceptible to decay.
We spend a lot of time at new patient appointments and subsequent wellcare appointments reviewing our patients dietary practices and beverage consumption habits because it is an essential component of good oral health! With all the sugar in today’s foods, we understand it’s difficult to limit a child’s sugar intake at times, but we recommend trying really hard to curb any “addiction” to juice from an early age by limiting it from the start. Follow the AAP’s guidelines and wait until after their first birthday (or even longer!) to introduce any sugary beverages and they’ll be more likely to accept water as a drink of choice for their lifetime. If you have any questions about juice, cavities, or any dietary questions about your child – don’t hesitate to ask us! Check out this video Dr. Erica filmed in the juice aisle of a local grocery store going over all the do’s and don’ts of juice!