This year has been like no other, and one result of the pandemic is that kids have been home for much longer than in a normal year. Even with the new academic year approaching, many households will be learning to navigate online school, which means that children will be spending at least the first month of the school year at home. And that leaves a lot of time for snacking!
While snacking is an essential part of health and development, eating too many of the wrong kinds of foods can do serious harm to a child’s dental health. It’s important to understand how certain foods and beverages affect your child’s teeth so that you can put in place some healthy guidelines for the remainder of the summer and beyond. Below, we will discuss the impact that sugar has on teeth, which foods and drinks are good and bad for teeth, ideas for healthy summer treats, and more.
THE SUGAR EFFECT
Yes, kids love sugary snacks. And they love them for the same reasons adults love them—sugary snacks are yummy. But they don’t do anything to promote healthy teeth, and many sugary foods have a high fat content as well. Plus, most children who eat a lot of sugary foods consume several types of sugar each day, including table sugar, corn sweeteners, and starches that turn into sugar in the mouth.
Each of us has bacteria in our mouths, which aren’t bad in and of themselves. Some of these bacteria live on the surface of our teeth, creating a sticky film called plaque. However, when we consume too many sugary foods and beverages, the bacteria mixes with the sugar to form acid. Too much of this acid will cause the enamel of our teeth to erode, which will eventually lead to cavities.
Since kids are even more susceptible to tooth decay and cavities than adults are, it’s important to limit the sugary foods your child eats. By doing so, the bacteria in your child’s mouth will not be able to produce as much of the harmful acid.
THE GOOD FOODS
While there’s no getting around the fact that many unhealthy foods are delicious, there are also plenty of tasty options that promote dental and overall health. Here are some examples of teeth-friendly foods to consider adding to your child’s diet:
Celery and carrots. The hard, crunchy texture of celery and carrots has a way of scrubbing your child’s teeth clean. And because these vegetables take longer to chew than some other foods, that’s more time that their teeth are being cleaned! Plus, celery and carrots are high in water and fiber content, both of which are effective cleaning qualities. Moreover, the fibrous strands of celery naturally floss teeth.
Apples. As with celery and carrots, apples have a crunchy texture and are high in water and fiber content. By having your child chew at least one apple a day, you can know that their teeth are getting a natural scrubbing! And let’s not forget—apples are delicious and they contain tons of vitamins and minerals that benefit overall health.
Green leafy vegetables and broccoli. These vegetables also have a bunch of fiber, along with various vitamins and minerals. Kale, spinach, and other leafy greens are high in folic acid, which also benefits your child’s teeth and gums. And the crunchy texture of broccoli adds scrubbing power to the mix. These factors make green leafy vegetables and broccoli some of the best foods for promoting dental and overall health.
Eggs. Eggs are loaded with protein, calcium, and vitamin D, all of which are critical minerals for dental health. As with bones, calcium is needed for the development of healthy, strong teeth. And in order for your child’s teeth to absorb calcium, vitamin D must be present. Plus, there are many other health benefits to protein, calcium, and vitamin D, which makes eggs an essential food for any diet (barring an allergy).
Dairy products. Calcium, phosphorus, and casein abound in foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese. All of these minerals can help to protect your child’s tooth enamel. What’s more, many nutrients found in dairy products can help to neutralize the acid produced by the bacteria in plaque. When possible, opt for low or nonfat dairy products.
Nuts. Nuts are also high in calcium and phosphorus. This means that peanuts, almonds, and cashews are more than just delicious snacks—they can help to replenish essential minerals in your child’s tooth enamel that are eaten by acid.
Water. Water is life, and it’s essential for overall health, including dental health. Make sure your child drinks plenty of water with fluoride each day. While most drinking water contains fluoride, you still want to check the bottled water your household uses.
Later, we’ll discuss some fun snack ideas that incorporate many of these foods. Don’t be surprised if your child discovers some new teeth-friendly snacks and meals that they love!
THE BAD FOODS
No one needs to tell you how many unhealthy foods are out there, but there are certain ones that have particularly negative consequences for teeth. Below are some examples of foods that are best avoided—or at least limited—in children’s diets.
Chewy candy. Perhaps the worst type of food children can eat for their teeth is chewy candy. Not only is it loaded with sugar, but it can also get stuck in between the teeth and remain there for long periods of time. Caramels and taffy, for example, can hide in crevices and cause enamel to erode.
Even worse, sour gummy candies are acidic on top of being chewy and sugary. This makes them the single worst food for teeth. Moreover, dried fruits with added sugar can also be harmful to your child’s dental health.
White flour starches. Any starch made with white flour is considered a simple carbohydrate. This means that the carbohydrates break down into simple sugars in the body, which not only turn into fat but can also combine with plaque bacteria to form the acid that causes tooth decay. Because of this, things like potato chips are not an ideal snack for children to eat on a regular basis, not to mention they offer no nutritional value. Furthermore, choosing pasta and bread made with whole wheat instead of white flour can benefit your child’s dental health.
Citrus. Yes, citrus fruits and juices come with many health benefits, particularly vitamin C. However, there’s a trade-off when it comes to teeth. Fruits like lemon and grapefruit are very high in acidity, which can cause decay in tooth enamel. As mentioned, these fruits offer a lot of nutrients, so avoiding them altogether might not be the answer. Instead, just be conscious of how often your child eats them, and try to brush their teeth (or have them do it) about 30 minutes after consuming citrus fruits and juices.
On another note, many fruit juices that are supposedly 100% fruit juice have loads of sugar. This means that frequent consumption of these juices can lead to tooth decay and cavities, which is something else to be conscious of.
Sugary beverages. Other beverages that contain a lot of sugar include sodas and sports drinks. Both regular and sugar-free sodas have a high acid content, which can cause serious damage to teeth when paired with the sugar. And even non-carbonated sports drinks are high in acid and sugar. Be mindful of these kinds of beverages when you’re evaluating your child’s diet.
There are plenty of healthy summer treats that won’t harm your child’s teeth. Apples and pears provide a crunch that helps scrub teeth with each chew. Softer fruits like berries, bananas, and watermelon are delicious and packed with vitamins and minerals. Yogurt is also great in summer, and adding fruit to Greek yogurt will provide your child with naturally sweet nutrition.
For savory treats, opt for cheese, which is rich in calcium. Hummus is another healthy snack that satisfies a savory tooth. Pita chips and whole grain crackers are healthier alternatives to potato chips, and they go great with cheese or hummus. Moreover, your child might enjoy cream cheese with carrots and/or celery, which will provide them with calcium and teeth-scrubbing power.
THE SMART WAY TO SNACK
Choosing healthy alternatives to sugary foods is ideal, but that doesn’t mean that you want to completely ban sweets. However, it is important to be mindful of when and how often your child snacks on sugar-heavy foods.
Remember that when they eat sugary snacks, harmful acids develop in your child’s mouth, and it takes at least 20 minutes for those acids to neutralize. Therefore, if your child eats sugary snacks a bunch of times throughout the day, there is a higher chance of tooth decay and cavities. If possible, limit sweets to dessert after main meals, and have your child brush their teeth about 30 minutes afterward.
Also, be conscious of how often your child drinks juice and soda. Similar to sugary foods, consuming these beverages means that your child is feeding the bacteria that cause tooth decay and cavities. So, if they sip on juice or soda all day, their mouth is in constant battle with these bacteria. To avoid this, limit sugary drinks to mealtimes or in one sitting at another time of day.
MAINTAINING HEALTHY DENTAL HABITS
Along with eating a teeth-friendly diet, it’s essential that your child develops and maintains other healthy habits that will help preserve their dental health. Here are a few basic practices that will do the trick:
Going to Regular Checkups
Untreated cavities are all too common among children, and they can be prevented by going to regular checkups at the dentist. Beginning at one year old or six months after the first tooth comes in, children should be visiting a pediatric dentist every six months. During these visits, the dentist or oral hygienist will examine your child’s mouth, clean their teeth, and apply a fluoride treatment.
There’s no getting around the importance of brushing teeth. To remove plaque and maintain good oral health, your child should be brushing their teeth twice a day for two minutes. If your child is under the age of six, a low-fluoride toothpaste is generally recommended. But you will need to ask your child’s dentist to make sure.
This is a tricky one. Most adults don’t like to floss, much less children. But the fact is that it’s a critical part of any healthy oral care routine. Flossing enables your child to remove plaque from areas between their teeth that are missed by a toothbrush. If possible, help your child form the habit of flossing once a day.
Don’t let this summer result in tooth decay and cavities for your child! Be conscious of the impact that sugary foods and drinks have on your child’s teeth, and find healthier alternatives that will both satisfy their taste buds and foster their health. And of course, make sure they are maintaining basic dental care practices like brushing, flossing, and visiting their dentist. If you need to schedule an appointment with South Charlotte Family and Cosmetic Dentistry, give us a call and we will make it happen!