How Much Sugar Is Too Much For Kids?

How to avoid tooth decay and keep your children’s teeth healthy!

The health of your child is important, but sometime oral health can be overlooked. Why? Because it’s ‘invisible’ threats, such as sugar, that can easily go unnoticed. Sugar is the master of camouflage, hiding in so many of the foods and drinks we consume. No matter what it’s in, sugar has the same effect on our body and importantly, our teeth.

A high sugar diet is one of the main reasons for tooth decay in children. Many types of bacteria can be found in the mouth, certain bacteria feed off sugar and in turn produce acid that dissolves away tooth enamel (the tooth’s protective surface), forming a cavity. Effective toothbrushing can only do so much to counteract the effects of high sugar intake.

The human body naturally produces saliva which acts to rinse the mouth, while also buffering the acid caused by sugar, constantly working to counteract the damage sugar causes in a process called remineralisation. However, if the cycle of acid (caused by sugar) is constant, the enamel on the teeth don’t get a chance to remineralise.

Water is the answer! Drinking water helps aid saliva production, which helps this buffering remineralisation action, whereas if a child were to constantly drink sugary drinks in lieu of water they are actually aiding the bacteria that breaks down your teeth, not the saliva that helps protect the teeth.

Watch Dr. Daphne talk about Paediatric Dentistry in the video below.


How much sugar can a child have?

The World Health Organisation recommends consuming up to twelve teaspoons (50g) of sugar per day, or 10% of your daily energy intake requirements, for optimal health. There are no set metrics for sugar in Australia, however we do have guidelines for balanced healthy eating. This suggested sugar amount is for an average adult.

It’s difficult to give an exact amount for children their daily intake varies depending on their age and sex. While an adult’s daily recommended energy intake is 8,700 kilojoules, the following table outlines the rough kilojoule intake required for children. Remember this doesn’t account for your individual child’s size or level of activity and should only be used as a guide.

 1 Year2 to 3 Years4 to 8 Years9 to 13 Years14 to 18 Years
Female3,800kj4,100 kj5,000 kj6,700 kj7,500 kj
Male5,700 kj7,500 kj9,200 kj

Source: American Heart Association

It is also important to note that reducing sugar isn’t about dieting, it’s critical not to limit your child’s food intake as they are in a high growth stage of life. It’s about providing a balanced diet and teaching them good food habits.

How do drinks compare for sugar?

Let’s look at a few popular drinks children consume and see how they rate against the World Health Organisation’s recommended 50g of sugar per day. For easy comparison, we’ll use as a 375mL serving which is the size of a can of soft drink.

 Kilojoules in 375mLSugar in 375mL% Adult Daily Sugar
Fanta 296kj16.9g33.8%
Fresh Orange Juice548kj28.9g57.8%
Bottled Orange Juice638kj28.5g57%
Bottled Apple Juice675kj39g78%
Milk (full fat)1106kj23.6g47.2%
Chocolate Milk1350kj34.5g69%

Source: Calorie King

As you can see, a single can of soft drink or large glass of juice or milk accounts for a large portion of the daily sugar intake, as much as 79.6%. Leaving only roughly 20% of your sugar allowance for food, remembering even without added sugar foods often naturally contain sugar so that 20% will soon be utilised.

What foods are high in sugar?

Hidden sugars are everywhere, so paying attention to your child’s diet is important. Packaged foods and drinks often contain large amounts of added sugar. Some foods that are often high in sugar include:

  • Baked goods such as cakes, muffins and biscuits
  • Breakfast cereals and muesli
  • Desserts, ice cream and candy
  • Salad dressings and chutneys
  • Tomato sauce, as well as pasta and stir fry sauces
  • Fruit and vegetable juices
  • Dried fruit
  • Soft drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks

How can I reduce our sugar intake?

You don’t need to completely cut sugar from your family’s diet, but moderation is the key.

Look for places you can quickly cut added sugar from your diets. Drinks is a great place to start, water is always the best option it contains no sugar, no acid and has no calories. Or try swapping smaller items out at first, such as tinned fruit in natural juice rather than in syrup.

Be on the look for items that have ‘no added sugar’ or ‘low sugar’ and remember to also check the nutrition label as a lot of foods naturally contain sugar, so don’t need additional sugar added. Watch out for those hidden sugars! A tablespoon of tomato sauce contains a teaspoon of sugar!

The ultimate goal is to base your diet on non-processed foods and eat a balanced diet rich in wholegrains fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy. Sugary foods eventually becoming a sometimes food rather than an all-the-time habit.


How does sugar effect teeth?

We now know that consuming sugar causes oral bacteria to produce acid that wears away the tooth’s enamel causing cavities. But what exactly is a cavity?

Unlike weakened tooth enamel which can be restored (through remineralisation), a cavity is when the damage is too severe and has caused a hole (decay) and the damage is now permanent. Once the tooth has reached this stage the only way to fix it is to visit a dentist for treatment.

To fix a cavity first the dentist must remove any decay, if any is left the hole will continue to grow. Once removed the dentist will fill the hole with safe materials to seal the hole so acid can no longer get into the space.

A cavity initially develops as a tiny hole in the tooth’s enamel. If left untreated the decay will continue to multiply causing more layers of the tooth to be affected.

Small to medium cavities can often be covered using a standard dental filling. When the damage to the tooth is larger, the dentist may suggest a crown to cap the top of tooth. When the damage is severe and the decay has spread to the pulp down in the root of the tooth, your dentist may suggest a root canal. As the cavity size increases, the level of treatment becomes more invasive.

A dentist will do everything in their power to save an infected tooth, but sometimes a tooth simply cannot be salvaged and must be removed. This is always a last resort, and in children is especially problematic, as your primary, or baby, teeth play a vital role of ‘space savers’ to keep your teeth in the correct place for when adult teeth begin to come through. Losing a tooth too early as a child can cause spacing issues with teeth and ultimately orthodontic issues.

Regular dental check-ups ensure your dentist can keep watch and catch any signs of decay early on, so to avoid more intrusive treatments. White spots on your child’s teeth can be an indication of weak enamel, and light brown spots are often a sign of decay. Never delay if you think your child may have a cavity. As soon as you suspect a dental issue, seek the advice of a dentist.


Protect your child’s smile

Your dentist will be able to help monitor your child’s teeth and can offer advice for at home oral health routines. The Australian Dental Association recommends your child begin seeing the dentist as soon as their first tooth starts to erupt, or at age one, whichever comes first.


Maintain YOUR oral hygiene

Did you know cavities are contagious? Similar to catching a cold sore, cavities can be spread by exchanging saliva. The simple act of sharing a spoon, or kissing can result in transmission of the bacteria, streptococcus mutans, which is the main cause of tooth decay.

Infants and children are especially susceptible to this bacteria as their teeth are softer than adults’. The protective layer of enamel on their baby teeth isn’t as strong, meaning the bacteria is especially harmful. Eventually, over time a cavity, or hole, will emerge and if left untreated will grow and cause pain.

Don’t despair, decay can be stopped by seeking treatment from your dentist. If you maintain your own oral hygiene, the chances of transmitting harmful bacteria to your child is greatly reduced. As with most things in dentistry, prevention is the best approach. You can achieve this by:

  • Brushing your teeth daily with fluoride toothpaste and flossing
  • Limit the amount of sugary foods and drinks
  • Visit the dentist regularly for check-up and cleans

Caring for infant teeth

It’s important to care for your child’s oral health from birth, even before their teeth start to emerge. Practicing healthy habits from the beginning dramatically reduces the risk of tooth decay.

As an infant, clean around your child’s gums after feeding. You can do this by cradling your child with one hand and using a moistened muslin or washcloth on your index finger to gently massage their gums. At around four months teething normally begins. Gums may be swollen and red and there can be an increase in saliva. Symptoms can be eased using a teething device or a cool, wet muslin. It can help to chill the teething device to further soothe their gums.

If your baby uses a bottle, it’s important to not allow them to drink a bottle in bed or to frequently self-feed as this can cause Bottle Rot. Bottles should only be during set feeding times, rather than for self-soothing. Excessive bottle use essentially means the infant’s teeth are constantly coated in milk or juice so the teeth begin to decay from the acid-causing bacteria.

Baby’s first tooth tends to arrive around the ages of six and twelve months. It’s time to schedule their first dental appointment. You can now also introduce a toothbrush into your routine. Make sure to purchase a toothbrush specifically designed for infants that is soft bristled, so it doesn’t damage their delicate gums. At this stage don’t use toothpaste on the brush and continue to massage the gums with a moist cloth. Your child will begin to be eating solid foods and drink from a cup, now is the time to begin promoting healthy diet habits by limiting sugary treats such juice.

You can start to add toothpaste into your routine at 18 months. Ensure you use a toothpaste specially formulated for young children. Only a pea amount of toothpaste that includes fluoride and encourage your child to spit out the toothpaste, rather than swallowing.

Caring for children’s teeth

At around age three is a good time to start teaching your child to brush their own teeth. Children all develop differently, so it’s okay if they don’t take straight away. Some children are not ready until they are four or five, feel it out decide when yours is ready. A great rule of thumb is when your child can tie their own shoes, they have the coordination to brush their own teeth. At this stage your child is practising and learning correct technique they need to be fully supervised. Don’t forget to follow up after they brush with a proper clean yourself, flossing will also likely be your task. We want to help build their confidence and skills using the toothbrush but ultimately parents should be brushing for them till they are 7-8 years old.

When your child is around eight, they should be able to confidently brush their own teeth. It’s important to still check up on their technique from time to time and make sure to remind them to brush morning and night as kids tend to ‘forget’. A timer can be a good idea if you feel your child is rushing through their brushing routine. Children’s piksters are a great alternative to regular dental floss when your child is young and ensures a through clean.

And remember as soon as your child’s first tooth appears it’s time to start visiting the dentist. Routine six monthly check-ups mean even if a dental issue does arise it can be addressed in a timely manner, which often will limit the invasiveness of the required procedure.

How to help with dental anxiety

If possible, it’s best if your child sees a dentist for the first time before any dental issues arise. This way, we can introduce your child to dentistry with a gentle, non-invasive check-up, and spend time establishing a positive relationship with them.

We regularly see our dentist over our entire life (or at least we should!), so it’s very important that a positive, healthy relationship is established from the get-go. No one understands this better than us, and our amazing team has worked hard to create a fun and welcoming atmosphere for little kids and big kids alike. We want our clinic to be a place your child looks forward to visiting.

For the parents, it’s important that you don’t talk about seeing the dentist in a negative way. For instance, comments like ‘if you don’t brush your teeth, I’ll have to take you to the dentist’ have the potential to make your child fearful of going to the dentist and seeing it as a punishment.

Before your child’s dental appointment, try not to do the following:

  • Don’t to be anxious, or at least don’t allow your child to see that you’re anxious
  • Don’t talk about negative experiences you’ve had at the dentist
  • Don’t tell them to be brave (or they’ll think that going to the dentist requires bravery)
  • Don’t tell your child that it might hurt
  • Don’t bribe your child

Be positive and have fun. Many of the ‘firsts’ in your child’s life are wonderful occasions, and there’s no reason their first trip to the dentist can’t be one too.

Keep your children’s teeth happy and healthy!

Our staff are experienced with all aspects of children’s dentistry, we make sure children of all ages are comfortable and relaxed when they visit our clinic. Remember early intervention is the key to healthy, happy smiles.

Book your children in for regular dental appointments and make sure to ask our expert staff about any diet or dental questions you may have.


Call us now!

Get in touch with our friendly team at Walloon Dental for all your queries and issues regarding your children’s oral hygiene & health or book an appointment online.