Eaten in a fast food restaurant lately? If so, maybe you’ve noticed some changes in the big, colorful signs behind the counters. Many have begun promoting a few “healthier” selections (like salads and grilled items) and giving a more extensive listing of nutritional information. But there’s one thing you might not have noticed on those displays: a listing for soda among the beverage choices in the kiddie meal packages. That’s because they are no longer there.
Recently, Burger King quietly removed sugary fountain drinks from the in-store and online menu boards that show what you get with kids’ meals. They were following the lead of McDonalds and Wendy’s, both of which made similar moves in prior months. You can still get a soda with your kiddie burger if you specifically ask for one, but we’re hoping you won’t; here’s why.
For one thing, youth obesity has nearly tripled in the past three decades. As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted, it’s now an epidemic affecting more than one in six children and adolescents. Many of the extra calories kids get are blamed on sugary drinks: According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, children’s daily calorie intake from these beverages rose by 60 percent in recent years. Obesity makes kids more likely to get many diseases, and can lead to problems in psychological and social adjustment.
But that’s not all. As dentists, we’re concerned about the potential for soda to cause tooth decay, which is still the number one chronic disease in children around the world. The association between sugary drinks and cavities is clear. So is the fact that tooth decay causes pain, countless hours of missed school and work, and expense that’s largely unnecessary, because it’s a disease that is almost 100 percent preventable.
While the new signage at fast food restaurants won’t make soda disappear, it does tend to make it less of an automatic choice. Anything that discourages children from routinely consuming soda is bound to help — and let’s point out that the same thing goes for other sweet and acidic beverages including so-called “sports” and “energy” drinks. It’s best to try and eliminate these from your child’s diet; but if you do allow them, at least limit them to mealtimes, and give your mouth a break from sweets between meals. That gives the saliva enough time to do its work as a natural buffer and acid-neutralizer.
What else can you do to help keep your child’s oral hygiene in tip-top shape? Be sure they brush their teeth twice and floss once every day, and bring them in for regular checkups and cleanings. But if you do suspect tooth decay, don’t delay treatment: Left alone, decay bacteria can infect the inner pulp of the tooth, resulting in severe pain, inflammation, and possibly the need for root canal treatment.
If you would like more information about children’s oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Top 10 Oral Health Tips For Children.”