Sugar, treats, and everything sweet – that’s what grandparents let the grandkids eat. According to new research published in The Journal of the American Dental Association, more than two-thirds (72%) of mothers indicated that grandparents give their young children sugary foods and beverages. Mothers typically described that grandparents fed large amounts of cariogenic, or cavity-causing, foods and beverages (for example, sweets, baked goods, juice, and soda) or did not limit their grandchildren’s consumption of cariogenic foods and beverages.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, West Virginia University and the University of Michigan conducted an in-person, two-year study of 126 participants to examine which factors influenced mothers to talk with grandparents about giving grandchildren sugary foods and beverages.
According to the results, 72% of mothers reported that their children’s grandparents give them such treats, however, only 51% of them discussed this matter with their grandparents. The findings revealed that several factors played a role in whether or not mothers had this conversation, including the frequency of interaction between grandparents and children, the extent to which mothers relied on grandparents for childcare, the amount of sugary food and drinks given by grandparents, and the strength of the relationship between mothers and their children’s grandparents. These results highlight the need for further discussions and educational efforts to address this important health concern.
“I have many happy memories of raiding the candy jar at my own grandparents’ house, and as a parent, I’ve hesitated with some of these talks myself,” said ADA spokesperson Dr Genaro Romo, a Chicago-based dentist. “Yet, cavities are the most common chronic childhood disease and can cause undue pain, as well as issues with speaking, eating, playing and learning. Over time, in addition to dental health concerns, a diet with excess added sugars puts kids at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and obesity, among other health concerns.”
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the more a child’s mouth is exposed to sugary treats and beverages per day, the greater the risk for tooth decay. Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar-producing acid that attacks and weakens tooth enamel.
To add not-so-nice icing on the cake, in January 2023, the ADA conducted a separate survey of 1,002 U.S. parents of children 17 years old or younger via a consumer research firm. Results show more than two-thirds of parents (68%) believe their children get more sugary foods and beverages at their grandparents’ house than at home. Of those parents:
- 73% say they would address their own parents but not their partner’s parents
- 43% indicate they would address their partner’s parents
- 34% confirm they would address both their parents and their partner’s parents
“There is nothing sweeter than the relationship between children and grandparents,” said ADA spokesperson Dr Mary Hayes, a paediatric dentist. “Have the ‘treats in moderation’ conversation, encourage water or milk versus juice or soda, and if offering a treat, opt for plain chocolate because saliva washes it out of the mouth more easily than sticky or hard candies.”
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and families can celebrate by practising daily oral hygiene routines at home:
- Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Use a smear of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice for children under 3 years old. After age 3, children only need a pea-sized drop of fluoride toothpaste.
- Clean between teeth daily with floss or another interdental cleaner to clean where a toothbrush can’t reach.
- See a dentist regularly. A child’s first dental visit should take place after the first tooth or no later than the child’s first birthday.
- Limit sugary foods or treats. Parents and grandparents can help reduce the risk of tooth decay by offering an occasional sweet treat with or just after a meal because chewing increases saliva production which helps wash away sugar or food particles that could lead to cavities.