My husband and I grew up in the 'drill and fill' years of the 70s. Our mouths are crammed with fillings and we vowed our children's teeth wouldn't follow the same path.
We enrolled them in a brilliant dental school which boasts an award-winning, innovative approach to learning about dental care.
Classes three times a year included fun lessons, playing with puppets, colouring in and other activities to demonstrate the importance of good dental care – as well as the usual check-ups.
In addition to brushing his teeth twice a day (using a two-minute timer) Teddy used a mouthwash, regularly flossed and chewed disclosure tablets to show up any 'missed spots' – recording the results on special charts.
It was all going so well. So picking him up from his last class/check-up I was horrified when the dental health educator, Denise Peel, asked if she could 'have a word'.
Teddy, now nine, needed three fillings. I stared at her, aghast.
"Is he eating more sweets?" she asked. "Still brushing his teeth properly?" I racked my brains for an answer.
And then it dawned on me. About six months previously, we'd introduced apple juice. (Both Teddy and Amelie were suffering with constipation and another mum had recommended it as a natural treatment).
We started off just at breakfast times. It did the trick – and the kids loved it. So when Teddy had asked for it outside of meal times we obligingly poured. 'Well, its good for him isn't it?' we reasoned. And when he came in, thirsty from playing, it was the first thing he grabbed from the fridge.
'Ah,' Denise said. And there we had our answer.
Googling apple juice and teeth I was horrified at the information that appeared. Experts are warning that fruit juice is causing unprecedented erosion of children's teeth. More than half of four to 18-year-olds now suffer from tooth erosion, according to the British Dental Association.
I vaguely recall reading the warnings – but naively, had shrugged the worries away - assuming it only applied to children who drank juice from bottles or didn't brush their teeth properly.
Teddy's dentist Mike Reece of Reece Associates (which runs Smilescool) in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, agrees that many parents hear, but don't heed, warnings.
"Much of the problem boils down to conflicting advice," he said. "Most parents think raisins are a great healthy snack for little ones – as that's the message they have been given by health visitors.
But what's good for the body isn't necessarily good for your teeth. And raisins are just about the worst thing for children's teeth. They are packed with retentive sugars that stick to the biting surfaces.
But how can something so healthy, like the juice of apples, be so harmful to little molars?
"Apple juice is very acidic," he explains, 'far more than orange juice."
But I know other children who drink gallons of the stuff and don't suffer any problems.
Every mouth is different, Mike explains. "We all have 'tooth decay' bacteria in our saliva – usually inherited from our mum in babyhood. From the time his first tooth came through, Teddy will have had this bacteria, or infection, in his mouth. But, if the conditions aren't right, the decay won't develop. The conditions haven't been right... until now."
By introducing apple juice into his diet around the clock – not just at mealtimes - we unwittingly threw a non-stop party for the bacteria.
"It's not the amount of sugar you eat and drink, but how often you do it. Each time you put sugar in your mouth the bacteria feeds upon it – turning it into acids which then attack your teeth. Teeth are attacked for as long as that sugar is in your mouth and for up to half an hour afterwards
"If Teddy had only had apple juice with meals – when the teeth are already under attack - it wouldn't really have done any harm at all. It's because he had it so often.
"Once bacteria eat their way through the enamel into the softer dentine of the tooth there's no stopping them. You have a serious problem. If you don't fill the hole, it will simply get bigger and bigger."
As we discovered, it develops slowly and silently without any tell-tale signs or warning. "If you'd given Teddy apple juice and noticed, the next day, that there was a problem, you'd stop. But the problem presents itself over a period of time. It takes so much time for the decay to develop and even more time for it to be recognised."
Thankfully, the story has a happy ending. Teddy had his three cavities filled. It was pain-free – but the sight of gunk being scooped out of three tiny pearly teeth will stay with me forever). And we can now work on keeping his teeth intact.
Needless to say apple juice and sweets are now strictly limited to mealtimes.
Squash has been swapped for plain water. And sweets are carefully chosen (no more sticky horrors from the 'pick and mix' counter) and only ever eaten after mealtimes (as opposed to spreading them out).
We've all learned a valuable lesson. And, hopefully, my son has had his first – and last – fillings....
Top tips for children's dental care
Keep fruit juices to mealtimes.
Between meals stick to plain water or weak squash with a straw to limit how much liquid comes into contact with teeth.
Don't give your child food or drink (apart from water) for an hour before going to bed.
"Saliva production virtually ceases while you're asleep," explains Denise. "If your mouth is full of bacteria and acids when you fall asleep (and they will be if you have eaten in the hour previously) they are left to run amok unchecked. Your teeth have virtually no defences – no matter how well you brush them."
Introduce your children to Xylitol – a natural sugar which acts as a detergent for the teeth and reduces tooth decay by up to 80 per cent.
It works in two ways. Firstly, because of its structure, it cannot be converted into acids that attack the teeth. Secondly, through regular consistent use it can help to improve the environment in the mouth that the teeth are exposed to. By creating conditions the bacteria don't like, they are gradually eliminated from the mouth. Try Sparx sweets £1.25 for a 30g tub.
Give them sugar free gum after meals
This increases saliva flow which neutralises acids faster. Chewing gum after a meal can bring the post-meal acid attack down from 30 minutes to ten minutes. Try Spry sugar free xylitol chewing gum, from £1.85 for a tub of 30 from www.anyone4tea.co.uk.
When it comes to sweet treats opt for chocolate
Chocolate quickly dissolves, unlike sticky, gooey sweets or biscuits (even plain ones) which cling to the teeth.
Don't brush teeth straight after breakfast.
Allow the 'danger point' of 30 minutes, when acid is most active, to pass first
Give dried fruits like raisins and apricots a wide berth – other than at mealtimes.
Keeping children's teeth clean
You don't need fancy all-singing, all-dancing gizmos and gadgets to keep little teeth healthy and filling-free.
Here are the five essentials every child needs:
1. A mirror
"Brushing your teeth without a mirror is like cleaning the floor in the dark," says Mike. "You'll think you're doing a good job – but put the light on and you'll see all the areas you've missed. People tend to brush (and even overbrush) where their hand goes comfortably – missing teeth that are a bit more awkward to reach.
"By using a mirror, your child can brush systematically, one tooth at a time.
Use a shaving mirror your child can see into or let them choose their own.
2. Disclosing tablets
These colourful tablets will show up any areas of plaque on the teeth that are being missed during the brushing process and where your child needs to concentrate on. Use after brushing, once a week.
3. An electric toothbrush
Choose rechargeable – not battery design, says Denise. "As the batteries wear down the toothbrush loses its effectiveness." We like the Oral B Stages Power rechargeable toothbrush – which comes in Disney Princess for girls and Cars for boys £34.99 (available from Boots and Amazon). Keep the brush fully charged so it's always working to optimum effect
4. A toothpaste they like (if they don't, they won't use it). Keep trying until you find 'the one'.
Essential to clean between the teeth. If your child struggles with loose floss try handled versions (available in supermarkets).
Natural yogurt with fresh fruit
Small cube of cheese