Updated Sep 24, 2007
By Mary Brophy Marcus, Special for USA TODAY
Gummy-style vitamins are helping kids munch down their daily supplements without a grimace, but some pediatric dentists worry that the candy look-alikes and taste-alikes could be harmful to little teeth.
The sugar combined with the gooey texture could add up to increased cavities, says Mary Hayes, a spokeswoman for the American Dental Association and a pediatric dentist in private practice in Chicago. “I will see children who have been cavity-free, and then they start eating these gummy vitamins, and boom, they have cavities within three months to a year,” Hayes says.
Certain bacteria that live on the teeth like to feast on the sugars that are in many gummy vitamins. After the bacteria process those sugars, they excrete acids onto the teeth, and that’s what leads to decay and cavities, Hayes says. “Gummy-type vitamins are more likely to sit on or between the teeth longer where the bacteria can thrive. It only takes about 20 minutes for bacteria to start excreting acids.”
Gummy vitamins first appeared about a decade ago, says Candice Peck, senior marketing manager at Hero Nutritionals, in San Clemente, Calif., maker of Yummi Bears. Now many companies manufacture them in an array of shapes and flavors.
So far, no research has been published evaluating whether gummy vitamins are any worse for the teeth than chalky chewables in healthy children. But, many experts agree, plenty of evidence in the medical literature links sticky foods and cavities, and parents with little ones who chew gummy vitamins need to be extra vigilant about their tooth care. Some dentists say the marketing of gummy vitamins is deceptive.
“Parents see the famous characters and the word ‘vitamin’ and think, ‘Good, this is healthy,’ but they don’t realize oral hygiene is much more of an issue with these,” says Jeff Davis, a pediatric dentist in McLean, Va.
Davis says parents who give gummies need to take extra care with their kids’ teeth. “Timing is key. Offer them with meals. A bad time to give one is right after they brush in the morning, or an even worse scenario is at night before bed, after they’ve already brushed,” he says.
Hero Nutritionals’ Peck points out that her company’s vitamins contain a low level of sugar — roughly 1 gram of sugar in each vitamin bear — and are supposed to be taken only three times a day.
“We clearly stand behind our product and what’s in it,” she says. “We haven’t heard of issues with chewing and sticking to teeth.”
Dentists add that cavities aren’t necessarily inevitable if children chew gummy vitamins. Davis says it’s not just what children eat that makes them prone to cavities. Several factors, including dental habits, saliva, spacing in the teeth and overall health, come into play, too
There’s always the option of giving no vitamins at all and avoiding the whole debate, says Wendy Slusser, assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. “I am a believer in getting your vitamins from real food sources whenever possible.”