Does your child have a stack of Easter eggs to munch their way through over the holidays? For many parents conscious of their children’s health and oral hygiene, Easter presents a bit of an issue. Even if you’re more inclined to say the Easter Bunny has left carrots not chocolate behind, well-meaning friends, family, nurseries and schools love to hand out the chocolate eggs at this time of year.
So, what’s the best policy for managing so many chocolate treats and limiting the potential damage it can do to teeth and gums?
How Bad Is Chocolate For Children?
The good news is that chocolate is not as bad as many other sweet treats; in fact it’s often the sweets inside the egg that are more of a problem. Unlike like toffees, boiled sweets and lollies that take longer to eat and therefore remain in your child’s mouth for longer, chocolate is quickly eaten and takes a more direct route to their tummies.
However chocolate is gloopy, sticky stuff and can find it’s way between the teeth and into recesses in the mouth. Because of the high sugar content of most chocolate used in children’s Easter eggs, it can increase the risk of tooth decay and the build of plaque that can lead to gum disease.
So is the answer to ban chocolate Easter eggs from your house?
Apart from the outrage this might cause in your family, restricting your child’s intake of chocolate could result in a backlash later on in life. Accordingly to research from the University of Surrey, parents who are very strict about the amount of sweets and chocolate consumed by their children may be encouraging a long-term obsession with these unhealthy foods. Professor Jane Ogden says;
“By by restricting access you may encourage a preoccupation with unhealthy foods which in the long term could encourage the very behaviour you are trying to prevent.”
Parents who have felt guilty about allowing their children sweets, especially when other parents don’t, may now be quietly celebrating that their children are not irrevocably damaged! However, that doesn’t mean you should un-padlock the treats cupboard and let your little ones have free access!
Tips For Healthy Teeth And Gums
Here’s how I would recommend dealing with the influx of chocolate in your house this Easter:
- Limit chocolate to mealtimes
We all know that sugary snacks between meals are bad for our teeth and gums, and they’re often the culprits for a poor appetite at mealtimes. Instead, allow your children some of their Easter eggs after their main meal, as a treat for eating up all that healthy food first. As they will already have eaten they probably won’t want so much and will naturally restrict the amount they eat.
- Drink water after sugary treats
Ideally you should encourage your children to brush their teeth after eating sweets or chocolate, but this isn’t always feasible. Instead a glass of water will help wash food particles and sugars away, and also stimulate the mouth to produce saliva that helps protect their teeth.
- Don’t be stingy with the chocolate!
While I wouldn’t advocate allowing your child to eat as much as they like, as the University of Surrey study shows severely restricting the amount they can have could backfire on you later. Instead be generous in the amount you allow them to have after a meal, so they don’t crave more. This will also mean the chocolate eggs disappear a lot faster and you can return to a more healthy lifestyle quicker!
- Teach your child how to brush properly
It can be a struggle to get your children to brush properly but if you persevere you’ll install excellent oral hygiene habits that will stay with them for life. Make sure you monitor their brushing and explain to children, in an appropriate way for their age, the consequences of poor oral hygiene and the effects of sweets and chocolate on their teeth and overall health.
- Once they’re in bed, raid the eggs!
Children, and adults, should not have sugary treats before bedtime – your mouth doesn’t produce as much saliva during the night and therefore any sugar left in your mouth has the perfect opportunity to do damage. But once the kids are in bed there’s one way you can reduce their consumption of chocolate and that’s to pinch a little yourself! Just don’t tell them I said that…
If you are concerned about your child’s teeth or gums, visit the dentist. Children should start having 6 monthly check ups from the time their first milk teeth appear. However, if you are worried about them in between check ups, make an appointment and address any issues quickly.