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Vanderbilt experts suggest ways to avoid sugar overload this Easter

Mar. 27, 2013, 3:14 PM


As Easter approaches, many parents may not want their children indulging in candy-filled eggs and Easter baskets full of sugary treats. Too much sugar can pose serious risks to children’s dental and behavioral health—risks that can be minimized by some careful thought and planning, Vanderbilt experts say.

“Generally, we recommend not having too much sugar in the mouth. The bacteria that cause tooth decay and gingivitis use sugar to survive in our mouths,” said Richard Shin, assistant professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery.

And because some children may not have as diligent teeth-brushing habits as adults, they tend to have significantly more plaque where bacteria makes its home on tooth surfaces. So, eating too much Easter candy and not brushing will cause candy debris and plaque to linger and expose the teeth to bacterial byproducts that can be very damaging, he said.

Shin advises supervising teeth brushing in children so that they aim the toothbrush bristles around the gums where the plaque is most common; make sure they brush the whole mouth, including the insides of teeth; and that they spend at least seven to eight seconds going back and forth per tooth.

Not only can the candy consumed on Easter and in the weeks after be detrimental to dental health, but sugar overloads can pose issues for children’s general health and behavior.

Vanderbilt’s Lindy Fenlason, assistant professor of pediatrics, warns that allowing too much sugar can cause children to act aggressively, have difficulty focusing and be generally hyperactive. And once children experience large sugar loads, they tend to crave increasing amounts of sugar, resulting in an unpleasant cycle for parents and children.

Fenlason said some candy is fine “as long as it is given in moderation.” She advises that variety might be the key to keeping children happy without going overboard. “For example, instead of giving an entire bag of jellybeans, give them a smaller amount but with several different flavors. This will make them feel as if they are eating several different candies while keeping their sugar intake relatively low.”

Fenlason also suggests that parents focus on not making candy the center of the holiday. They might consider including bright and fun toys, such as jump ropes or playground balls, in their Easter baskets. That way in addition to limiting sugar consumption, they’ll feel encouraged to do something active.

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