Diet and a Baby's Dental Health
Babies are not born with a sweet tooth and will enjoy home-made baby foods without sugar. If you’re buying baby foods, look out for the ones without sugar. You don’t have to buy special juices either, but make sure it is unsweetened and that for very young babies you dilute the juice with plenty of cooled boiled water.
Sugar and sugary foods can be a tooth’s worst enemy. For good oral health cut down on how often a baby eats sugary foods and drink. Give them as part of a meal instead of between meals if you can. Having sugary foods and drinks too often puts the teeth at risk of tooth decay. This is especially important once the baby teeth start to appear (around 6 months).
The best way of caring for a baby’s teeth is to give food that helps a baby grow and develop with healthy meals and well planned snacks. Frequent snacking on high fat or sugar containing foods reduces a child’s appetite for the more nourishing foods needed for proper development and will also contribute towards tooth decay. Start on the right track early by encouraging your child to eat a wide variety of foods in the recommended amounts from the food pyramid
You can use the Food Pyramid for Children as a guide – choose plenty of the foods from the bottom of the pyramid, and less of the foods at the top. You can see that sugary foods are at the top of the Pyramid.
Breast milk provides the best source of nourishment for the early months of life. Mothers are encouraged and supported in breast-feeding and may choose to continue to breast-feed as the weaning diet becomes increasingly varied.
Children have high energy needs for growth and development. It is important that children are given energy rich foods that are nutritious such as cereals, breads, dairy foods, and meats, chicken and eggs. Foods from the first four shelves of the food pyramid should be used to replace foods from the top two shelves that are high in added sugars/fats such as chocolate, cakes and sweets.
It's not advised to add sugar to home prepared weaning foods. Limit baby foods sweetened with added sugars and check labels for sugar content. Food labelled as “No added sugar” does not mean it is sugar free. Less than 5g of sugar per 100g is low sugar (4g of sugar in a teaspoon of sugar). Try to choose healthy snacks between meals e.g. fresh fruit, vegetables and cheese and limit foods high in sugar, fat or salt, such as chocolate, sweets, biscuits or ice-cream to meal times only, not every day, and a maximum once or twice a week. Use sugar free medicines when available.
Breast milk is the best form of nourishment for young infants. If it is not possible to breast feed, a suitable iron-fortified infant formula should be used.
For children allergic to cow’s milk, check with your Doctor or PHN for a recommended alternative. Soya-based infant formula is not generally recommended for babies under 6 months of age. Some soy milks contain sugar and can cause tooth decay if children are allowed drink it on demand throughout the day from a feeding bottle, so choose plain unsweetened. Cow’s milk, rice milk or sheep’s milk are not suitable for children under the age of 1. For older children, cow’s milk is a good source of calcium which is necessary for the development of teeth and bones.
Plain tap water is a suitable drink for all ages but should be boiled – just once, for about 1 or 2 minutes – and cooled for infants less than 1 year. Natural mineral/bottled waters may not be suitable for infants because of their mineral levels.
Fruit juices should be unsweetened, well diluted to diminish their acidity and natural sugar content (1 measure to 4 or 5 measures of boiled water) and given only at mealtimes from a cup. Baby juices and herbal drinks are not needed, but if given should be used sparingly and only at mealtimes from a cup.
Colas, squashes, fizzy drinks, sports drinks and diet drinks are unsuitable for infants as they are highly erosive to tooth enamel and have no nutritional value. Foods should never be added to the baby bottle as babies can choke from the added food. Infants should be weaned from using baby bottles by their first birthday.
It is important never to give sweet drinks in the baby bottle. This can be harmful once a baby’s teeth start appearing. Try not to let the baby develop the habit of sleeping with a bottle at night or at nap time. Infants and toddlers should not be put to bed with a feeding bottle or dinky feeder. Baby’s bottle should be used for feeding – not as a pacifier. See more in our Early Childhood Caries section
Your baby will be able to use a cup at 6 months, and they can be weaned off a bottle by 12 months. Give baby plenty of cooled boiled water to drink and about 1 pint of milk each day (breast or formulated milk up to one year and cows milk after that).