Objectives: The purpose of this review, commissioned by the Administration for Children and Families, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Health Care Financing Administration, and the Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, was to update the evidence of the dietary factors that affect dental caries, and subsequently formulate dietary recommendations for preschool children based on principles of cariology.
Methods: Literature on the dental caries process, dietary factors affecting dental caries initiation and progression, and nutrition education and counseling were reviewed and synthesized. Dietary guidelines for children at various ages were then constructed based on the review.
Results: Dental caries in preschool children is due to a combination of factors, including colonization of teeth with cariogenic bacteria, type of foods and frequency of exposure of these foods to the cariogenic bacteria, and susceptible teeth. Caries risk is greatest if sugars are consumed at high frequency and are in a form that is retained in the mouth for long periods. Sucrose is the most cariogenic sugar because it can form glucan that enables firm bacterial adhesion to teeth and limits diffusion of acid and buffers in the plaque. There is emerging interest in the effects of tooth development and its role in the future dental caries risk of the child.
Conclusions: Nutrition education and counseling for the purposes of reducing caries in children is aimed at teaching parents the importance of reducing high frequency exposures to obvious and hidden sugars. Guidelines include: avoiding frequent consumption of juice or other sugar-containing drinks in the bottle or sippy cup, discouraging the behavior of a child sleeping with a bottle, promoting noncariogenic foods for snacks, fostering eating patterns consistent with the Food Guide Pyramid, limiting cariogenic foods to mealtimes, rapidly clearing cariogenic foods from the child's oral cavity either by toothbrushing or by consumption of protective foods, and restricting sugar-containing snacks that are slowly eaten (e.g., candy, cough drops, lollipops, suckers). Along with nutritional factors, a comprehensive approach to preventing dental caries in preschool children must include improved general dietary habits, good oral hygiene, appropriate use of fluorides, and access to preventive and restorative dental care.