Parents are putting the oral health of infants and young children in harm's way by giving them ill-advised foods and drinks, a new report reveals.
According to the Diet and Nutrition Survey of Infants and Young Children (DNSIYC), two in every three (62 per cent) children aged 12-18 months had â€˜sugar, preserves and confectionary' foods.
The pattern of perilous goodies continued with drinks, as one in four (26 per cent) 12-18 month old infants also enjoyed fruit juice and soft drinks.
As well as the number of infants and young children having sugary foods and drinks rising, the amount they were consuming also increased, causing concern for leading oral health charity the British Dental Health Foundation.
The results present an obvious problem to the oral health of children, particularly if sugary foods and drinks are consumed too often. In fact, in 2003, approaching half of five-year-olds (41 per cent) had obvious tooth decay and by 2008 three out of ten (31 per cent) five-year-olds in England had decay.
Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, took the opportunity to remind parents about their role in the development of their child's oral health.
Dr Carter said: "The most important message to remember is it is not the amount of sugar children eat or drink, but the frequency of sugary foods and drinks in their diets. Children aren't born with a sweet tooth. It is acquired over time due to their dietary habits.
"Of real concern to the Foundation is the potential for an erosion explosion in children's teeth. Fruit juices are becoming increasingly popular and the fruit content can make them seem like a good idea. However, they contain very high levels of sugar and acid and so can do a lot of damage to the teeth.
"If your child has a drink in between meals it is important to have only still water or milk instead of sugary drinks, which can cause decay. Savoury foods such as cheese, pasta and vegetables are better than sweet foods. Food that does not contain sugar is better for your baby's teeth. Ask your health visitor for more advice about a balanced diet for your baby.
"At such a young age it is unrealistic to remove sweet foods and drinks altogether from a child's diet. To combat this, it is important to try to keep their consumption to mealtimes. Snacking is also allowed, but do bear in mind it is better for the child's teeth and general health if they have three meals a day instead of 7 to 10 â€˜snack attacks', many of which will contain sugar. Try to have no more than two snacks in addition to regular meals.
"One of the Foundation's key messages is cut down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks, and combined with encouraging the children to visit their dentist regularly, as often as recommended and brushing their teeth for two minutes twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste, in this instance from two and a half years old and above, the child's oral health will remain good as they grow older."
The survey, carried out on behalf of the Department of Health and Food Standards Agency, provides detailed information on the food consumption, nutrient intakes and nutritional status of infants and young children aged 4 up to 18 months living in private households in the UK.
The full report can be read here: Diet and nutrition survey of infants and young children.