The oral condition is often overlooked and underappreciated as a crucial health risk factor, despite the fact that oral problems can have far-reaching effects on overall health and well-being. Dental caries (tooth decay) is the number 1 chronic condition among US children and is 5 times more prevalent than childhood asthma. However, oral healthcare is still the most common unmet healthcare need among children. Diet is the primary etiologic factor in the caries process. Unfortunately, the usual exhortation to “avoid sugar” or “avoid sweets” is meaningless because the dietary factors involved in the caries process are more complex than simply encompassing the general category of sweets. Thus, dietary guidelines must be provided to pediatric populations if dental caries is to be prevented. This article reviews the factors involved in dental caries—especially the dietary factors—in young children and provides strategies for preventing this serious disease.
Carole A. Palmer, EdD, RD, LDN, is tenured professor and head of the Division of Nutrition and Oral Health Promotion in the Department of Comprehensive Care at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. She also directs the Master of Science (MS) component of the MS/DI (Dietetic Internship) program at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Her primary research has been the study of relationships between diet and/or nutrition, oral conditions, and effective communication of these issues to professionals and the public. She has written extensively in the professional and lay literature; consulted widely on nutrition and oral health issues; appeared frequently on radio and television and in print media; and just completed the third edition of her textbook, Diet and Nutrition in Oral Health (2016).
Dr Palmer received an honorarium from Lippincott Williams and Wilkins for the preparation of this article. This article appears in the Nutrition Today supplement, Sweet Taste Perception and Feeding Toddlers, funded by The Sugar Association.
The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.
Correspondence: Carole A. Palmer, EdD, RD, LDN, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, 1 Kneeland St, Boston, MA 02111 (firstname.lastname@example.org).