I usually talk about grandparents because I am old enough to be a grandpa. I hope that young parents think of me as a grandpa giving them good advice. Not the dentist telling them how live their lives, or how to control their children. Hopefully, they understand my job is to give them a clear set of principals they can use to stop tooth decay for their children.

Part of the joy of being a grandpa is giving your grandchild a sucker on occasion. That is something grandpas should have a right to do. However, Grandpa must follow the rules for snacks. That is 10 minutes. At the end of 9 1/2 minutes their grandchild may chew it up and swallow it, or they must throw the sucker away at the end of 10 min. That way, at the end of 40 minutes the bacteria are done producing acid that damages the enamel of their teeth (strepmutans and infants). This way, Grandpa is at least trying to follow the 10-minute snack rule.

On the other hand, I sometimes think grandmas are probably worse than grandpas. To be sure, they will choose a healthy snack, like an apple, instead of a sucker. Grandmas will lovingly peel the apple and cut it into bite-sized chunks, carefully removing all the seeds and all the pulp. They put the apple in a Tupperware box and tell the grandchild to go and eat the apple.

The trouble is that the baby ends up at the end of three hours taking a bite of the apple when she pretends to feed it to her dolly. By now the apple has turned brown and slimy and no reasonable thinking person would eat it. But little kids don’t care they eat it anyway. At that point it will take another 30 minutes for the normal flow of saliva to rinse her mouth of that last bite of sugar from the apple.

So the healthy apple that grandma peeled becomes a three-and-a-half hour picnic for the bacteria. And when it comes to tooth decay, choosing an apple over a sucker is of little or no value. The bacteria still feed for half an hour after the last bite. If the child is allowed to eat the apple for long periods of time the bacteria will produce acid damaging the enamel.

So Grandma must also follow the rules. Ten minutes with the apple is all the baby’s needs. If the box is empty after 5 minutes, it can be refilled just as long as the apple is finished in 10 minutes. That way the acid production will lower again in 40 minutes as the bacteria run out of sugar left behind by the apple.

The principals are logical and easy. But, sometimes they can be difficult to get children to understand. If the desire is to shorten the 30-minute time after the last bite, other actions can be taken. Drinking water, chewing sugarless gum, or brushing teeth will rinse away the sugar from the last bite more quickly.

Grandparents can still indulge their grandchildren – they just have to follow the rules to avoid tooth decay.

by Dr. Charles Keithline, DDS