Starting children off with good eating habits is important to a healthy life style, as well as having strong and cavity free teeth. Many people are unaware of the effects that children’s eating habits have on their teeth. Foods that contain high levels of carbohydrates, starches, and sugars can increase the risk of dental decay when consumed in moderate amounts or left on tooth structure for too long. My blog today is focused on providing tips on food and snacks that are good choices and foods that would be considered poor choices when it comes to nutritional choices to keep children’s teeth healthier.
We all know the outer aisles of the grocery store are the ones to stick to and where you will find most of the foods I encourage, but if you are purchasing any packaged foods be sure to read and check the sugar content.
Good Nutritional Choices:
- Water is best- Soda, juices and even milk can contain large amounts of sugar, which when sipped on for longer periods of time can cause dental decay. Do not put your child to bed with any of these items either, as it will accelerate the risk of dental decay. It’s best to encourage your children to primarily drink water, if you don’t introduce them to other options daily then most children don’t mind water.
- Fruits and Veggies– These are great options in place of carbohydrate snacks like granola bars, teddy grams, crackers or even gold fish. Melons, pears, celery and cumbers are great because they are high water content foods which help clean off the teeth. Hard crunchy fruits and veggies are also good because they help remove substances that get stuck on teeth. Bananas do contain a concentrated sugar though, so be sure to brush your children’s teeth right after consumption.
- Vitamin C– Found in fruits such as oranges, limes, kiwis, cantaloupe, papaya and strawberries help kill bacteria in your mouth. It’s also found in the following vegetables: red, yellow, and orange peppers, tomatoes and sweet potatoes. Although these are good foods, be sure to wait 30 minutes before brushing after eating them, as the citric acid can temporally weaken the tooth enamel and leave the teeth vulnerable to erosion caused by brushing.
- Lean meats, nuts and proteins– These items are a great source of protein which helps strengthen the outer structure of your tooth called enamel. Examples include, turkey, chicken, and white fish. Nuts are a great snack as long as your child is old enough to chew them and not choke and trail mix is great starting at age 4. Nuts and seeds contain natural fats that coat teeth and help them shield against bacteria, the oils in the seeds strengthen the enamel making them more resistant to cavities.
- Calcium (Vitamin D)– This is important in building strong bones and teeth. Calcium mixes with plaque and sticks to teeth, protecting them from lingering acids, it also strengthens the bones around your children’s teeth, making them more resistant to periodontal disease as adults. Good sources of calcium include; low-fat milks, cheese, yogurt and broccoli. Aged cheeses like cheddar, swiss and monterey jack also help generate the flow of saliva.
- Sugarless Gum– If your child enjoys chewing gum, be sure its sugar free, and if it contains Xylitol even better. Gum can be beneficial as the chewing stimulates saliva production. The saliva loosens plaque and can help prevent tooth decay. So if you are out and about and unable to brush, chewing 1 piece of sugarless gum for no more than 20 minutes is a nice option.
Poor Nutritional Choices:
- Snacking- We all have a bad habit of snacking occasionally, but it is harmful to our teeth especially children’s. It’s best to limit snacking between meals to decrease risk of decay. Time between meals is important because it allows the mouth to keep itself clean, but when we continuously snack it changes the PH levels in our mouths and allows for bacteria to grow, causing plaque and tooth decay. If your child is a snacker, I would encourage you to limit it to only one snack between meals where water is being drank at the same time and brushing after lunch when possible.
- Sticky, Chewy foods, Sweets- Gummy snacks/ candies and vitamins, taffy, caramels, lollipops, hard candies, cough drops, potato chips, raisins, and honey all get stuck on the surfaces of your teeth which in large amounts without proper brushing can increase your decay risk. If you are going to give your child a sweet treat its best to give it to them right after a meal as the saliva is already working at cleaning the mouth. If sweet treats are used for potty training or incentives regularly I would encourage simple chocolate over the more sugary options and even dark chocolate if you can, as it has antioxidants. When it comes to dessert it’s all about moderate, so limit your child’s consumptions and be sure to brush their teeth right after.
- Sugar sweetened drinks, Chocolate milk & Sports drinks- These should all be in moderation (no more than one a day) and for special occasions.
Medicine – Children get sick and we try not to give them medicine but sometimes they need it to be comfortable and to get better. Some medicine contains sugar, which the bacteria in your mouth uses to make acids and can eat away at the enamel, so be sure to brush your children’s teeth after giving them any type of medicine orally.
In addition to picking the right foods and snacks for your children, be sure to continue brushing their teeth twice a day, flossing once a day and using Act Flouride rinse nightly. Also bring them to the dentist twice a year for their dental cleanings and exams and follow suggested dental treatment.