A child’s general level of health often dictates his or her oral health, and vice versa. Therefore, supplying children with a well-balanced diet is more likely to produce healthier teeth and gums. A good diet provides the child with the many different nutrients he or she needs to grow. These nutrients are necessary for gum tissue development, strong bones, and protection against certain illnesses.
Children need vegetables, fruits, meat, grains, beans, and dairy products to grow properly. These different food groups should be eaten in balance for optimal results.
How does my child’s diet affect his or her teeth?
Almost every snack contains at least one type of sugar. Most often, parents are tempted to throw away candy and chocolate snacks – without realizing that many fruit snacks contain one (if not several) types of sugar. When sugar-rich snacks are eaten, oral bacteria is attracted. The bacteria feast on food remnants left on or around the teeth. As a byproduct of consuming sugar, bacteria produce enamel-attacking acids.
When tooth enamel is constantly exposed to acid, it begins to erode – tooth decay. Eventually, those same acids begin to attack the soft tissue (gums) and underlying jawbone. Periodontal disease is just as harmful to children as it is to adults. The teeth become prematurely loose or fall out, causing problems for emerging adult teeth.
Regular checkups and cleanings at the pediatric dentist’s office are an important line of defense against tooth decay. However, minimizing sugary food and drink intake as part of your child's healthy dietary habits are equally important.
How can I alter my child’s diet?
Dr. Davis and Dr. Bourji are able to offer advice and dietary counseling for children and parents. Most often, parents are advised to opt for healthier snacks, such as carrot sticks, reduced fat yogurt, and cottage cheese. In addition, our dentists may recommend a fluoride supplement to protect tooth enamel.
Parents should also ensure that children are not continuously snacking, even if the food itself is healthy. Lots of snacking means sugars are constantly attaching themselves to teeth, so the enamel is constantly under attack. It is also impractical to try to clean the teeth after every snack, if “every snack” means every ten minutes!
Finally, parents are advised to opt for faster snacks. Mints and hard candies remain in the mouth for a long period of time, allowing sugar to coat the teeth for longer. If you still would like your child to enjoy some candy, you can give them a sugar-free, expediently eaten choice.
Should my child eat starch-rich foods?
It is important for the child to eat a balanced diet, so some carbohydrates and starches are necessary. Starch-rich foods generally include pretzels, chips, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Since starches and carbohydrates break down to form sugar, it is best that they are eaten as part of a meal (when saliva production is higher) than as a standalone snack. Provide plenty of water at mealtimes (rather than soda) to help the child rinse sugary food particles off the teeth.
As a final dietary note, avoid feeding your child sticky foods if possible. It is incredibly difficult to remove stickiness from the teeth, especially in younger children who are still learning how to properly brush their teeth.
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s general or oral health, please contact our office.