Keeping your child’s teeth healthy and cavity free is a lifelong commitment that involves more than just brushing twice a day and flossing. What your child eats is equally as important as their good oral hygiene habits since an improper diet can cause lasting damage to teeth even with daily brushing.
How does sugar cause cavities?
We all know that sugar is bad for children’s teeth. The actual reason is because the bacteria in our mouths consume this sugar and the by-product of this process releases acid. This acid can then lead to tooth decay, erosion of the enamel, and eventually a cavity if not properly removed through brushing.
Sugar in liquid form (sports drinks, soda, juice) is equally as bad, especially before bedtime. It is essential to avoid leaving sugars on the teeth overnight where the acid produced in the mouth can eat away at the teeth until the next brushing occurs. For parents, this means that providing juice, milk and even breastmilk without brushing before bedtime can be bad for children’s teeth.
What kind of diet leads to healthy teeth?
If you are providing sugary liquids to your child before bedtime, try to water it down in order to reduce the sugar concentration in the drink. If your child really craves juice, milk or breastmilk before bedtime, watering it down is a good way to start to wean them off this routine over the course of a few weeks. Alternatively, make sure your child brushes well before bed if they are drinking sugary liquids in the evening. For babies who are breastfeeding, parents should wipe down their gums in order to try and remove some of the breastmilk or formula from the mouth before bedtime.
In terms of healthy diets for teeth, water is always the best choice because it does not contain sugar and also because it keeps the body hydrated. This hydration is good for oral health because saliva depends on water for its effectiveness in breaking down food.
Foods high in fiber (carrots, celery, etc.) are also good for the teeth because they can help to remove buildup on teeth, much like a toothbrush, since they are rubbing against the teeth while you chew.
Leafy greens are also obviously great for your overall health, but also for the vitamins and minerals they provide which build strong enamel in the teeth.
Finally, what your child doesn’t eat is also essential for healthy teeth. The absence of harmful food for the teeth (soda, sugary desserts, candy) is essential for diet but also for a strong and cavity free mouth. However, you should not feel like you need to avoid providing any treats to your child. In fact, your child can still enjoy treats and maintain good oral hygiene provided they follow the guidelines below.
Is snacking okay?
Every child loves to snack. The good news is that maintaining healthy teeth does not mean an end to all snacking. The key for healthy snacking is to reduce the number of snacks per day, when they occur, and also the amount of time the snack remains on the teeth.
Specifically, parents should look to provide snacks around two times a day. Most parents believe a good snacking schedule to be one snack between breakfast and lunch, and one between lunch and dinner. With this schedule, parents can regulate their child’s hunger and also the frequency with which the child is eating unhealthy foods.
Additionally, this schedule eliminates a snack before bedtime, which is important since sugars left on the teeth overnight can cause tooth decay, as mentioned above.
Finally, reducing the amount of time that the snack remains on the teeth during consumption may sound odd, but it is an important factor for healthy teeth. In the same manner that foods left on the teeth overnight can lead to tooth decay, snacks left on the teeth during the process of eating can damage the teeth if they are excessively sugary or sticky. This is because the teeth are being exposed to these sugars for a longer time period.
For example, if your child was to eat a lollipop for 20 minutes, this exposes the enamel of the teeth to sugars for that entire length of time. A better option would be snacks that can be consumed quickly and that don’t require lengthy chewing or sucking. This reduces the exposure of the teeth to the sugars in these snacks. With that being said, which snacks should parents avoid?
The top 5 snacks that are bad for kids’ teeth
If you are packing a lunch for your child, and are wondering what kind of snacks to avoid, then this list might be surprising to you. Most parents choose quick and easy snacks that can fit into containers and be eaten in handfuls. However, some of the snacks that fit that description can also be harmful for your child’s teeth. Try to avoid the following snacks for your children:
1) goldfish crackers – leave a sticky carbohydrate on teeth
2) pretzels – leave a sticky carbohydrate on teeth
3) gummy bears – stick to teeth all day long, hard to remove
4) hard candy – take a long time to break down in mouth and expose teeth to sugar while consuming over this time period
5) raisins – stick to teeth all day long, hard to remove
In terms of drinks, most parents already know that soft drinks, juice and sports drinks are bad for children’s teeth. These beverages are simply a form of sugary water that pose the same problems as sugary snacks in that they leave sugary residue on the teeth that can lead to decay.
Is there any good news? Surprisingly, chocolate is not that bad for your child’s teeth (or your teeth either!). Since chocolate simply melts in the mouth, it does not stick to teeth like raisins or gummy bears or other sticky carbohydrates. The darker the chocolate the better, since dark chocolates have less sugar than milk chocolate.
So, while your child might be sad after learning about the above list of snacks to avoid, you can always brighten their day by letting them know that chocolate can still be enjoyed (relatively) guilt free. You can even tell them that their dentist said it was OK.