What is the link between nutrition and a child's dental health?
Experts agree that children need food from all the major food groups to grow properly and stay healthy. Too many carbohydrates, sugars (for example, from cake, cookies, candies, milk, fruit juice, and other sugary foods and beverages), and savory foods and starches (for example, pretzels and potato chips) can cause tooth decay. How long carbohydrates remain on the teeth is the main culprit that leads to tooth decay.
Here are some tips for choosing foods that are more healthful to your child’s teeth:
- Keep fruits and vegetables in your house to offer as "healthy snacks" instead of carbohydrates. Choose fruits and vegetables that contain a high volume of water, such as pears, melons, celery and cucumbers. Limit bananas and raisins, as these contain concentrated sugar. You should brush immediately after these fruits are eaten.
- Serve cheese with lunch or as a snack. Cheese, especially cheddar, Monterey Jack, Swiss, and other aged cheeses, help to trigger the flow of saliva, which helps wash food particles away from teeth.
- Avoid sticky, chewy foods. Raisins, dried figs, granola bars, oatmeal or peanut butter cookies, jelly beans, caramel, honey, molasses and syrup stick to teeth, making it difficult for saliva to wash away. If your child consumes these types of products, have them brush their teeth immediately after eating.
- Serve sugary treats with meals, not as snacks. If you plan to give your child any sweets, give them as desserts immediately following the meal. There’s usually an increased amount of saliva in the mouth around mealtime, making it easier to wash food away from teeth. The mealtime beverage also helps to wash away food particles on teeth.
- Get your children in the habit of eating as few snacks as possible. The frequency of snacking is far more important than the quantity consumed. Time between meals allows saliva to wash away food particles that bacteria would otherwise feast on. Frequent snacking, without brushing immediately afterwards, provides constant fuel to feed bacteria, which leads to plaque development and tooth decay. Try to limit snacks as much as possible and to no more than one or two a day. Brush teeth immediately after consuming the snack, if possible.
- Avoid sugary foods that linger on the teeth. Lollipops, hard candies, cough drops, and mints all contribute to tooth decay because they continuously coat the teeth with sugar.
- Buy foods that are sugar-free or unsweetened.
- Never put your baby to bed with a bottle filled with milk, formula, juice or soda. If your baby needs a bottle at bedtime, fill it with plain water.
- Offer your child plain water instead of juice or soda. Juices, sodas and even milk contain sugar. Water does not harm the teeth and aids in washing away any food particles that may be clinging to teeth.
- Include good sources of calcium in your child’s diet to build strong teeth. Good sources include milk, broccoli and yogurt.
- Choose xylitol-sweetened or sugar-free gum If your child chews gum. Xylitol has been shown to reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth and the chewing action helps increase the flow of saliva.
On brushing and visiting the dentist:
- Use fluoride and brush and floss your child’s teeth. The best way to prevent tooth decay is to use a fluoride toothpaste every day after the age of 2 or once your child can spit and not swallow toothpaste. Fluoride reverses early decay. Once the tooth is formed, fluoride application remineralizes the surface. This means returning minerals to the teeth. Minerals help keep teeth strong, which, in turn, helps prevent tooth decay. Brush your child’s teeth at least twice a day and after each meal or snack if possible. If brushing between meals is not possible, at least rinse the mouth with water several times. Floss your child’s teeth at least once a day to help remove particles between teeth and below the gum line.
- Be sure to brush your child’s teeth after giving him or her medicine. Medicines such as cough syrups contain sugar that bacteria in the mouth use to make acids. These acids can eat away at the enamel, the protective top layer of the tooth.
- Visit the dentist regularly. Your child should make his or her first visit to the dentist by the age of 1 or within 6 months of the first tooth breaking through the gums. Having regular dental checkups will also help catch any developing dental problems early.