Food allergies and Christmas tooth decay

2 Dec

All I can think about at the moment is tooth decay. I lie awake at night imagining the decaying of teeth and its all due to – candy canes.

My kids have food allergies. Candy canes are one of our ‘safe’ foods over Christmas because they are allergic to everything else. And because everyone knows my kids can’t have all types of chocolate they give them candy canes…much to my distress. And it’s so nice of them to make an effort to buy them something they can actually have.

I don’t keep candy canes in my house for this very reason. When children are often restricted when it comes to fun foods they tend to overdo it when they are given treats. Our house is a candy cane, chewy lolly and junk food free. When we have treats I buy enough to last a day. We all have a bit and then it’s all gone and we move on.

Has anyone else made the connection between food allergies and tooth decay yet? My son is allergic to egg and tree nuts (that’s all nuts except for peanuts). Since he was a baby he has violently reacted to traces of these foods. We carry an EpiPen with us at all times and I am ashamed to admit that I used to make mistakes that led to reactions.

He’s seven now and he hasn’t had a major reaction outside of his food challenges at the allergy clinic for years. We have ‘safe’ foods we know we can always turn to…potato chips, popcorn, pretzels and lollies. These are not the healthiest choices but when faced with a kid’s birthday party, a vending machine or a school canteen they are the foods he can always buy.

I took to carrying a small bag of lollies in my handbag so that if he was offered a treat during a visit with family or friends he could have one of his ‘safe’ treats instead.

Then I took him to the dentist. We were getting ready to start school and I thought a visit to the dentist was a good idea. He had major tooth decay. His tooth decay was so bad he required dental surgery. The culprits….all the ‘safe’ foods I had previously mentioned, inadequate tooth brushing and non-tap water. We had relied on a filtered water delivery service his whole life and apparently the lack of fluoride in this water contributed to the damage the foods did to his teeth. It was a combination of errors made by me….resulting in intrusive dental surgery which was done under a local and costing thousands of dollars. By far the worst part of it was the pain he went through in the lead up to the surgery and his distress when he woke up and had no idea where he was and what was going on. I couldn’t have felt worse. I felt rotten and still feel upset every time I think about it.

During our most recent visit to the food allergy clinic at one of the best hospitals in Sydney, I noticed something for the first time. I noticed that most of the parents were carrying ‘safe’ foods with them for their allergy kids and these foods were mostly potato chips and lollies. These foods are portable, non-perishable, readily available and affordable. They are also unhealthy and cling to little teeth.

Allergy kids often miss out on the best treats. Ice-creams can contain the allergens dairy, egg, nuts, wheat….cakes can contain egg, nuts, wheat, fruit…sandwiches can be cut with a knife that contains allergens such as egg and dairy…it’s never ending. So some of us had obviously taken to carrying with us treats that would cheer our kids up when they realised they were again missing out on the Spiderman cake, the ice-cream cake, the lolly bags at the party, the cupcake stand at school and the Easter eggs given out by their friends.

I wanted to ask the parents about their children’s teeth but we were so busy dealing with the skin prick testing and the food challenges that we never got a chance to talk.

After his dental surgery I made some changes. We got rid of our water service and now use tap water. He brushes his own teeth in the morning and I do it at night. We only stock soft lollies in our house and not every week. He still has chips and popcorn every now and then but I supplement them with healthier choices like potato sticks and plain crackers. My son used to only eat apples with the skin peeled off. My new rule is that every time he eats a lolly he has to have an apple. I once put a knife in my handbag so I could peel his apple when we were out. Then I realised I was carrying a concealed weapon and it probably wasn’t a good idea. So I put a banana in my handbag and it went black. I started carrying fruit cups but often forgot the spoon. So I started a campaign of bribery involving Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and DS games to get him to eat his apples with the skin on and now he loves them (as long as they are red delicious). He eats cheese more often now and I have bought every kind I can find – string cheese, cheese sticks, grated cheese and block cheese. He eats raw carrots too – yay!

It’s more of a challenge for my little kids. Apples and carrots can be choking hazards. We follow the same water and teeth brushing rules and I do my best with their diet.

Did you know popcorn kernels can become stuck in their teeth causing tooth decay? Chips stick to the inside of their chewing teeth and lollies leave them with a coating of sugar on their teeth. Captain Obvious I know. It’s all common sense but isn’t that what we forget when we are just trying to get them to stop fighting, to put their shoes back on, to have a nap, to go to bed, to clean up their mess, to finish their lunch, to stop screaming while you shampoo their hair and all the other challenges we face daily?

Hopefully Santa brings them all novelty electric toothbrushes for Christmas. If he does he will get egg and nut free cookies, soy milk and carrots for his reindeer.

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

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