The Scariest Part of Dental Disease Isn’t Halloween: It’s What Kids Drink the Other 364 Days of the Year

Written by
Gina Sharps, MPH, RDH, CTTS American Network of Oral Health Coalitions
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Halloween is coming up. While trick-or-treating will undoubtedly look different this year, candy will definitely be involved. For many parents that is a concern – so much so that some dentists offer candy buyback programs. But, it’s not this singular holiday’s impact on dental and oral health that parents should be worried about. Instead, it’s the sugary drinks many children consume on the other 364 days of the year that can really do serious harm to both baby and newly erupted adult teeth – you know, those teeth in braces you are financing monthly!

It’s no secret that oral health directly impacts a child’s overall health. For example, if a child has a toothache, he/she is less likely to perform well in school and consequently even miss school due to that same toothache. But that problem can be avoided altogether with the right food and drink choices and by practicing good hygiene.

Healthy Drink Choices

The major takeaway for parents is choosing healthy drinks is just as important as choosing healthy foods. Sugary drinks are the leading source of added sugars in the American diet. On average, children consume more than 30 gallons of sugary drinks every year – enough to fill a bathtub. When children consume drinks with sugar throughout the day, their risk for developing tooth decay increases.

Parents often do not know that many drinks, like the ones listed below, have added sugar:

  • Flavored milk, such as chocolate, strawberry and vanilla milk
  • Non-diet (regular) pop or soda
  • Fruit drinks, such as fruit punch and juice cocktails
  • Sports drinks
  • Flavored and sweetened water
  • Sweetened teas and coffees
  • Energy drinks

Plant-based milks, such as rice, coconut and almond milks, may be sweetened or unsweetened. Sweetened versions of these milks contain added sugar.

Some Not So Spooky Tricks Parents Can Make When Choosing Healthy Drinks

Parents and caregivers play a critical role in preventing tooth decay by promoting healthy drink choices and encouraging children to limit drinks with added sugar. Here are a few tips (and tricks) parents and caregivers can keep in mind when making healthy drink choices for their children:

  • Give children water, ideally tap water with fluoride. Some parents and caregivers prefer to give children bottled water instead of tap water. It is important for these parents to know that the amount of fluoride in bottled water varies greatly. Most bottled water does not contain the right amount of fluoride to help prevent tooth decay and some bottled water contains no fluoride.
  • Children should not be put to sleep with a bottle or sippy cup containing drinks with natural or added sugar. If parents put the child to bed with a bottle or sippy cup, it should contain only water.
  • Parents should give children ages 12 months and older no more than four to six ounces of 100% fruit juice per day. Parents can give children frozen or fresh fruit that has been mashed or cut into bite-size pieces instead of juice. If parents offer juice, it should be served in a cup without a lid. 
  • Children under age 5 should not drink beverages with low-calorie sweeteners like diet pop or soda. The carbonation that makes these drinks bubbly can wear away the outer covering of teeth. This makes a tooth’s outer surface thinner and more likely to develop decay.


Sources: and Lott M, Callahan E, Welker Duffy E, Story M, Daniels S. Healthy Beverage Consumption in Early Childhood: Recommendations from Key National Health and Nutrition Organizations. Technical Scientific Report. Durham, NC: Healthy Eating Research, 2019. Available at


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