How much sugar per day is okay for kids?

With Easter right around the corner there’s no better time than to tackle some of the most common questions we get about kid’s teeth and sugar, including how much sugar per day is okay for your child to consume. 

Of course we’re not going to sit here and tell you it’s a terrible thing to give your kids some Easter eggs this holiday season because let’s face it, that wouldn’t be realistic!

When we talk about oral health, we’re generally most concerned with WHAT you eat and HOW FREQUENTLY you eat it, rather than how much of it you eat at a time. 

However, the thing about sugar in this day and age is that it’s popping up in so much of our pre-packaged foods, making it tricky to figure out how much sugar per day your child is actually ingesting. 

Considering we’re also living in a time where one in three Australian kids aged five to six years old have already had tooth decay in a baby tooth (and this goes up to one in two for Indigenous children), it’s more important than ever we create heightened awareness around sugar, how it’s consumed, and it’s link to oral health problems.



There are lots of different kinds of bacteria living on and around your teeth. While not all of these are bad – in fact some are necessary for healthy teeth and gums – there are certain harmful oral bacteria that love to feed on the sugars in the food and drinks we consume.

Unfortunately at the same time that bacteria is producing acid, which attacks the outer layer of the teeth known as the enamel. What happens then is that the enamel starts to dissolve and the tooth begins to weaken.

This process happens every time we digest food or drink with sugar as an ingredient, therefore speeding up the process of tooth decay. That’s why paediatric dentists can link how much sugar per day you have to your chances of developing dental cavities and decay. 



Here’s the thing about sugar though, it’s REALLY sneaky. 

In fact it’s so sneaky it often disguises itself on food labels under different names. You might think you’re aware of how much sugar per day your child is having by monitoring the obvious culprits like lollies, cakes and soft drinks, but are you also able to identify what’s known as added sugars? 

Added sugars are any sugars that aren’t found in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cheese and yoghurt. Sugar-sweetened drinks such as fruit juices, soft-drinks, cordials and flavoured milks are some of the major culprits of added sugar in children’s diets.

However, added sugars are also often found in the foods you may least expect, such as soups, sauces, breakfast cereals and muesli bars. In fact, some ‘health’ foods that you may presume to be natural can actually contain up to twice the daily recommended amount of sugar. 



If you really want to know how much sugar per day your kids are having, you need to have a keen eye for reading nutrition labels – and you need to know what you’re looking for. 


Here are the many names of sugar to look for:

  • Golden syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, rice malt syrup, date syrup
  • Honey
  • Dextrose, maltose, sucrose, glucose and fructose
  • Raw sugar, cane sugar, invert sugar, brown sugar, molasses
  • Cane juice
  • Agave nectar
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Malt, malt extract

A more exhaustive list can be found here



The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of added sugars to less than five percent of their energy intake, which equates to roughly 25 grams or six teaspoons of sugar per day. 

Considering the high rates of baby teeth decay already and the fact that in 2017-18 one in four Australian children and adolescents aged two to 17 were overweight, identifying those hidden sugars is absolutely vital. 

For example, one tablespoon of tomato sauce contains around four grams (or one teaspoon) of added sugars. That’s all it takes, four grams and that’s one teaspoon of your daily intake gone. 

Remember, while what your child eats matters greatly, how much sugar per day they consume and the overall health of their teeth really comes down to repeated snacking or frequent sipping on sugary foods and drinks. 



Here are some great tips from Sugar By Half to help with reading food labels so you can better limit how much sugar per day your kids are ingesting. 

Start at the very beginning.

Items on a nutrition label are always listed in order from largest to smallest by weight. If one or more of the names for sugar feature towards the start of the list, that’s a sign that the product is high in added sugar.

Look out for red alert words

Words like syrup and sugar are the more obvious ones. However, anything described as crystals or concentrate is worth looking into. 

And don’t forget the words that end in “ose”. Dextrose, maltose, sucrose are all added sugars. 



Now you know how much sugar per day your child should be having, how do you actually implement the change? 

Well when it comes to kids and their food, it’s best to start small. Find the highest sugary food your child eats most regularly and swap it out for a healthier alternative. Slowly keep introducing them to the lower sugar options one at a time. 

Alongside that, keep encouraging a good oral hygiene routine, helping them with daily brushing and flossing until they’re able to do it themselves. 

And don’t forget to book regular appointments with your paediatric dentist so that they can monitor your child’s dental health and address any decay issues early. 

If it’s time for your child’s next visit, you can set an appointment by calling us on (02) 9188-0202 or book online here


This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics and to help begin the conversation with your children’s dentist. It should not be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your health care professional prior to incorporating this as part of your child’s diet or health regimen.


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