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Module 2: Dental Caries Process

2.2 Dental Caries Formation

Feeding and Eating Practices

Feeding and eating practices play a crucial role in the caries process. Foods and beverages that contain sugar are major contributors to dental caries. When checking for sugar, parents need to look beyond the sugar bowl and candy dish. Foods and beverages can contain one or more types of sugar, and all types of sugars can promote dental caries.

Frequent consumption of foods that contain sugar, such as candy, cookies, cake, and sugary beverages (e.g., fruit drinks, pop or soda), and fruit juice increases the risk for caries. Limiting the frequency with which children consume foods and beverages that contain sugar can significantly reduce their risk for dental caries. If served, fruit juice and other foods with sugar should be given as part of a meal or snack, rather than between meals and snacks. In addition, foods that easily adhere to the tooth surface, such as dried fruit, fruit roll-ups, and candy, increase the risk for caries.

Each time a food or beverage is consumed, the pH level of the plaque on the teeth decreases for approximately 20–40 minutes. During this time the teeth are exposed to acid, initiating the demineralization process. If a child is allowed to consume foods and beverages containing sugar throughout the day, the pH level will stay in the danger zone for long periods of time, increasing the risk for dental caries (see figure 2).

Figure 2: Eating Frequently Matters Chart

Figure 2: Eating Frequently Matters Chart

Adapted with permission from Joanna Douglass, B.D.S., D.D.S., University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine.