Dietary habits of schoolchildren encourage an increase in sugar intake leading to a greater risk of cavities, reports the Academy of General Dentistry.
Over a 15-month period, researchers tracked the dietary habits and monitored the teeth of preschool children before and after the start of school. Results show that decayed, missing or filled teeth and initial cavities of the children jumped from 9.7 (at age five) to 15.3 cavities (at age six), an increase of 5.6 cavities within one year. Over the length of the study, the percentage of cavity-free schoolchildren dropped from 23 to 19 percent.
The easiest way parents can help children prevent tooth decay and cavities at school is to monitor their eating habits. For example, parents can offer their children healthy snack alternatives, such as apples, bite-size carrots or other foods that are naturally sweet, and instruct children to avoid candies, chocolate, caramels, chocolate milk and other foods that contain refined sugar. Cavity-causing organisms feed on sugar and turn it into acid, which attacks tooth enamel and causes tooth decay. Sticky, chewy candy especially can linger on teeth throughout the day. If children do happen to eat sugary snacks at lunch, they should brush and rinse with water or eat a piece of fruit to help clean teeth surfaces and gums.
Also, parents should find out what their child's school lunch program offers. If programs do not offer healthy alternatives, talk to the school about incorporating healthy lunches or snacks.
Finally, parents should consider professionally-applied sealants as another way to protect children's teeth from cavities. Sealants, a thin coating of bonding material applied over a tooth, act as a barrier to cavity-causing bacteria. They can be put on as soon as the child's first permanent molars (back teeth) appear.