Juice: not a vegetable.

By Molly Snyder

Many parents will see a toddler or very young child drinking soda and scoff at the idea of it, yet they don't hesitate to give their child a bottle or cup filled with juice multiple times a day. However, drinking juice – and eating fruit – should be approached like anything else that's filled with sugar: as a special treat.


Morgan Weller is the mother of two boys, ages 8 and 6. Both of her sons had multiple fillings by the time they were 5 years old even though she was vigilant about having them brush their teeth twice a day with a spin brush.

"Some of it is hereditary, but I learned, from my dentist, that part of it came from letting them drink juice with all of their meals. I really thought juice and fruit were in the same category as vegetables," says Weller. "(My dentist) taught me to see juice and fruit more like Halloween candy. Something I really have to monitor."

The Wisconsin Dental Association has a campaign going called "Sip All Day, Get Decay." The objective of the campaign is to alarm parents of the possible tooth issues that can arise from letting kids drink sugary beverages on and off all day. It also alerts parents to the perils of juice drinking.

The fact is, according to Dr. Kate Gilson who has been a dentist for 12 years and co-owns a practice in Waukesha, juice drinking can be as detrimental as soda drinking. OnMilwaukee.com recently checked in with Gilson about kids and juice drinking and found out it's not just the Kool-Aid man or Dr. Pepper that parents should be concerned about.

OnMilwaukee.com: Do kids, in your opinion, drink too much juice?

Dr. Kate Gilson: Yes, I think kids drink WAY too much juice, and soda, and especially sports drinks, which are just as acidic, if not more, than soda. Parents and kids don't often realize this because they don't taste as sweet, but they are just as bad, if not worse, for your teeth. That constant exposure to acidic, sugar containing drinks will weaken the enamel and make teeth more susceptible to stain and decay. Sometimes you can start to notice that there are areas that look really white and "chalky" on teeth. This is evidence that the enamel is weaker in that area to breakdown.

OMC: Are some juices better for teeth than others?

KG: The only type of juice that I feel is a healthy option is one that is 100 percent juice with no sugar added. I feel juice is definitely a healthier alternative than soda, simply because it has SOME nutritional value in that kids can get some of their necessary Vitamin C from juice. That being said, it can have the same detrimental affects on teeth that soda does due to the sugar content and acidity. In that way it can be as "bad" as soda for teeth.

I think it is a good idea to dilute juice a bit with water to reduce the negative affects on enamel. The real key to keeping your teeth strong and healthy is to not sip all day on drinks that contain sugar. If you are going to give your kids juice it is ideal to do it at snack or meal time only, and not just let them sip all day on juice in their sippy cup or bottle. It takes approximately 20 minutes for your mouth to return to a "normal" pH level after you've taken a drink of something acidic. So, if you are constantly sipping on that drink, your mouth never gets to return to a normal healthy pH level and your enamel will start to breakdown, putting your teeth at risk.

OMC: How much juice do you recommend for a kid per day?

KG: As far as a recommended amount of juice per day, I would say as little as possible. I think it's best to get your kids used to drinking water when they are thirsty in between mealtimes. And I always prefer milk to juice for meals, simply due to nutritional value.

OMC: Anything else you want parents to know about kids and juice drinking?

KG: Parents should NEVER put their kids to bed with a bottle filled with milk or juice. Having milk or juice sit on their teeth all night can cause baby bottle decay, which can be very serious.