As pediatric dentists, we are all for choosing foods that are healthy for teeth and gums. After all, a well-rounded diet is one of the key components to keeping your child’s smile strong and cavity free. So if we just minimize sugary treats and drinks, will that be enough to keep the cavities away? Well, not exactly, but it’s a good start! Not to worry, we’ll break it down for you and give you some principles to follow when feeding your forever hungry little one.
It helps to understand the way cavities develop to know what foods to choose and when to eat them. Here’s your quick lesson in cavity science ( yes, that’s a real thing ). When we eat sugars, the bacteria in the mouth feed on them and release acids that weaken the tooth’s enamel, which can eventually lead to cavities.
Fortunately, our saliva can neutralize those acids released by the bacteria but not right away. It can take about half an hour for saliva to clear acid from the mouth. All right, so what does this all mean for our diet?
- Lesson 1: Balance out carbs with proteins and fats
We’re aware that sweet foods have sugar but it’s less obvious that savory or salty foods can also be a sugar source. Carby snacks like Goldfish, dry cereal, pretzels and granola bars get mashed up and caked on to our teeth when we eat them. Within minutes, the carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars and the cavity process is set in motion. Of course, we’re not expecting that children never eat crackers or cereal. That’s a tough request that is also not very practical. But with small tweaks to your family’s snacking, you could make a big difference for their teeth. Try choosing non-carbohydrate foods, such as fresh vegetables, low fat dairy (i.e. cheese sticks or yogurt) and lean proteins. This way you know the family is enjoying options with less sugar and more nutrients.
- Lesson 2: Don’t linger with food and drinks
We’re not suggesting eating and drinking at record speeds. But consider that every time you eat, acids are produced and stick around in the mouth for about 30 minutes before our saliva neutralizes them. That means that, every time you take abite or sip, the clock resets. So it’s not actually the quantity of sugar that makes a big difference, but the frequency and duration of the sugar exposure.The best thing to do to promote healthy teeth for kids is to consolidate the sweet foods and drinks into one sitting rather than grazing and snacking slowly over the course of several hours. Also, avoid sticky foods like dried fruit and fruit snacks that linger on the teeth long after eating them.
- Lesson 3: Water is your friend
Water is truly the perfect drink! It helps wash away leftover food and bacteria from our teeth. It helps stimulate saliva production, which clears away the acids that wear down our teeth. Finally, it’s sugar free and cost-free! Giving your kids water throughout the day instead of sweet drinks will help keep their teeth washed and clean. It’s also a good idea to offer water following snacks or treats to get rid of any lingering sugars or food debris. With the sugars washed away, the cavity-causing bacteria don’t stand a chance!
As you can see, just a few little adjustments to your family’s snacking can keep you kids’ teeth healthy and bright. Just throw in regular dental visits to your child’s oral care routine and you’ll be golden! For a friendly and knowledgeable pediatric dentist on the Upper West Side, visit us at Sunshine Smiles Pediatric Dentistry.