As parents, we strive to routinely provide our children with nutritious snacks, while also allowing them the occasional indulgence to feed that sweet or salty craving they ALWAYS seem to have! We keenly understand the impact that a healthy, balanced diet has on their mood, focus, and overall health. But another impact that we may not always consider is how their diet, especially the snacks they consume, may be affecting their teeth. Sugary, sticky, and acidic snacks can be particularly damaging if we’re not vigilant.
Our mouth contains bacteria that feeds on the sugars we consume. As the bacteria feeds, the sugar breaks down into acid, which is strong enough to erode the enamel of our teeth. The acid and the bacteria together, with the help of food particles and saliva, form plaque that accumulates on the teeth. Once the plaque has formed, the acid burrows and eats into the enamel, beginning the formation of cavities.
Sugary foods, such as candy, cakes, and cookies, are an obvious culprit in tooth decay as they provide an easy source of “food” for our mouth’s bacteria. In addition to sugary food, however, we need to also be mindful of sugary drinks, such as soda, sports drinks and fruit juice. The sugar content, carbonation in the soda, and acid in the soda and juice make for particularly destructive combinations for our children’s teeth.
Starchy foods can be just as harmful as the sugary foods and drinks that are typically associated with cavities. Potato chips, pasta, bread, crackers, and other simple carbohydrates tend to stay in the mouth for extended periods of time and adhere to teeth. Our saliva helps break starchy food down into sugar in the mouth, providing ample sustenance to our mouth’s bacteria.
Candies that easily stick to teeth, like caramels, hard candies and lollipops are a double whammy for our children’s teeth. With other sugary foods, a swish of water or a good brushing can help rid the mouth of the extra sugar. With sticky foods, however, the sugar tends to stay on our teeth for a long time, making it easier for the bacteria and acid to combine and produce cavities.
When it comes to choosing a healthy snack that won’t harm your child’s teeth, try to stay away from anything with excessive sugar. Choosing snacks from a variety of food groups can help your teeth to stay healthy.
Apples and carrots are both full of fiber and water. Eating these crunchy and fiber-rich foods helps to increase saliva production in the mouth, which temporarily cleans the teeth. Celery is also a good choice, as it acts like floss in removing built-up food between the teeth. It’s packed with lots of Vitamins A and C, both of which are great for your gum health. Leafy grains are another great option as they are high in calcium, helping to build and strengthen enamel.
Cheese, yogurt and milk supply your teeth with important minerals and nutrients, especially calcium and protein. Cheese has been proven to raise pH levels in the mouth, which helps reduce the risk of cavities. And eating yogurt, particularly unsweetened yogurt, supplies your mouth with good bacteria to defeat the bad bacteria.
As always, the best defense against cavities — no matter your child’s diet — is a sound twice-per-day brushing routine, coupled with flossing at least once per day. It’s difficult to always be vigilant about the snacks our children consume, but we can set the foundation for good oral health throughout their childhood and lifetime if we help them establish and stick to proper oral hygiene.
If you have any questions about what you can do to minimize your child’s risk of cavities, please don’t hesitate to reach out. At Behind the Smile, we pride ourselves in providing our patients and their parents with a compassionate and child-friendly environment. Schedule an appointment online or by calling our office.