With the new school year underway, dental experts urge Hunter Valley parents to ditch the traditional unhealthy lunchbox treats and help protect their children’s oral health.

Many parents think they’ve packed their child a healthy lunch to get them through the school day, but a lot of convenient choices are high in sugar – and it all adds up,” Australian Dental Association New South Wales (ADA NSW) President Dr Kathleen Matthews said.

For example, a lunch that includes a box of sultanas, a flavoured yogurt and a fruit juice is delivering more than double the recommended daily amount of sugar.

Limiting sugar consumption is key to preventing tooth decay, which is the most common chronic disease in childhood.

The latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare National Oral Health Plan showed that about 1 in 4 Australian children aged 5-14 have tooth decay. We also know there’s about 600 people aged 15 and over a year in the Hunter New England Local Health District needing hospital treatment for tooth decay and there are more than 1200 potentially preventable hospitalisations for dental conditions every year across the Hunter Valley, showing what can happen if you don’t protect teeth when you are young.

Popular lunchbox treats such as muesli bars, biscuits and dried fruits and sugary drinks can all damage young teeth and can also contribute to serious health conditions later in life such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Swapping a few items in your children’s lunchbox could help protect their oral health and ensure they avoid dental and other health problems later in life.”

Tips to improve lunchboxes
  • Include something from each of the five food groups including fruit/vegetables/legumes/beans, dairy, grain (cereal) foods and lean meats poultry/fish/eggs.
  • Replace chips, chocolates and biscuits with items such as fresh fruit, berries, celery sticks and baby carrots.
  • Limit snacks that are high in sugar and/or saturated fats e.g. chips, muesli bars cakes, chocolates, donuts, biscuits.
  • Pick whole fruit over fruit juice – the vitamins, minerals and fibre make it more filling and nutritious and reduce the sugar content per serve.
  • Pack water as a drink rather than sports drinks, soft drinks cordials or flavoured milk which are high in sugar.
  • Look for grain-based snacks with whole grains and high fibre.
  • Processed snack products such as muesli and breakfast bars, chips, and cookies should be limited to one item and ideally a low-sugar choice, such as rice crackers, popcorn and cheese.
  • Check labelling of items before buying to see their real sugar content.

As well as improving their kids’ lunchboxes, parents should ensure their child visits a dentist at least once a year for a check-up,” Dr Matthews said.

Brushing teeth twice a day, flossing and drinking tap water in place of other drinks are also easy ways to help protect oral health among people of all ages. There is no reason to put off seeing your dentist at this time either. Australian dentists have world-class infection prevention control measures and have introduced additional screening measures to ensure the safety of patients
during COVID-19.”

Childhood health statistics (Courtesy the Australian Oral Health Tracker):

  • Poor oral health in childhood is the strongest predictor of further dental disease in adulthood
  • About 70% of children aged 9-13 are consuming too much sugar
  • About 1 in 5 children have not had a dental check-up in the last 12 months.
  • Oral diseases such as tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancer contribute to illness, disability and death in Australia.