As an adult AND a parent, it’s likely you understand the connection between healthy teeth and healthy eating. No doubt you’ve heard since childhood about the things you should eat and the foods that you should avoid that can cause tooth decay. (How many of you had a mom that said, “Candy will rot your teeth.”?)
Indeed, you may have grown up in a household where eating sugar and other unhealthy foods was discouraged. You were fortunate! On the other hand, however, there’s plenty of evidence which demonstrates that many Americans weren’t necessarily taught the particulars of avoiding certain foods because of how they may impact one’s teeth.
That means there’s always room for a reminder about what you should feed your little ones, especially in the early years when it’s super important for teeth to grow properly. It’s also essential to remember that a child’s dental health can greatly affect their overall health, so ignoring food’s impact on your child’s teeth could have long-lasting, detrimental effects on the entire body.
Let’s start with the basics of healthy teeth.
We know that in order to be healthy and grow strong, your child needs foods from each of the major food groups. However, they need more from certain food groups than from others. Healthy grains, for example, should be a big part of their diets while sugars should only be consumed in small amounts.
Overall, you should limit the following:
• Carbohydrates – In general, sugary carbs like candy, cookies, cakes, fruit juices, and even milk should be limited.
• Starchy foods – Though you may not think so at first glance, starchy refined carbs can be just as problematic as candy or sugary beverages. Avoid large amounts of bread, pasta, crackers, chips, and other similar foods. These simple carbs contain white flour, which can remain in the child’s mouth and break down into simple sugars.
• Acidic foods – Watch out for lemons and other citrus fruits, which can cause problems if kept in the mouth for too long.
Tips for healthier eating
Remember, you can control what goes into your child’s mouth, especially when they’re very young, so take charge and consider some of these guidelines for healthy teeth.
• Snacking on fruits and vegetables – Snacking should be treated as just another small meal, not necessarily a “treat”. That means avoiding cookies in favor of choices such as fruits and vegetables, which can be equally as satisfying when presented creatively and with enthusiasm. (Don’t say “you can ONLY have carrots today.”) When choosing fruits and veggies, look for those with a high volume of water, especially in the summertime. These include melons and cucumbers. Bananas, on the other hand, contain lots of concentrated sugar, so limit those.
• Say “cheese” (and consider other calcium-filled options, too) – Another great option for snacking is cheese, which is rich in calcium. Aged cheeses are the best because they prompt the flow of saliva. Such cheeses include tasty options like cheddar, Swiss, and Monterey Jack. It’s a treat that’s enjoyed by all ages! Milk, yogurt, and broccoli also provide calcium for your kiddos and their healthy teeth.
• Keep sugary treats for “dessert” – Of course, it’s perfectly fine for your child to have a sugary treat now and then, but dental experts suggest that you tag them onto the end of a meal rather than offer them as an individual snack during midday or after school. There are a few reasons for this. Because kids are consuming a full dinner before the treat, the increased saliva in their mouth will help wash the sugar off their teeth. In addition, most children brush their teeth after dinner but likely not after a snack.
• Dump the fruit juices – Once upon a time, apple juice was the first non-milk beverage introduced to little ones, but we know better now. It’s best to avoid sugary juices (and, of course, sugary soft drinks like soda). Simply replace them with water, which is refreshing and can also help rinse away food particles.
• Avoid bottles of milk at bedtime – For the wee ones who still need a bottle for comfort at bedtime, simply fill it with water. NEVER leave a bottle in their mouth that’s filled with milk, formula, or juice. It’s a recipe for decay disaster! Of course, none of us are perfect and sometimes kids get their hands on stuff they shouldn’t really have. Remember, however, that occasional consumption of these foods is fine and that good dental hygiene, which includes brushing and flossing consistently and visits to the dentist, can help counteract those small slips.
For more information on nutritious foods for healthy teeth, talk to one of our pediatric dentists or a member of our staff at your next dental appointment. You can reach Anchorage Pediatric Dentistry at (907)562-1003 to schedule an appointment! We look forward to seeing you!