If there’s one thing that discourages Dr.McAllister, Taryn, Abby, and parents here in Hagerstown alike, it’s seeing see young patients with cavities. Roughly 41 percent of children age 2-11 have had decay (cavities) in their baby teeth, while approximately 32 percent of children ages 9-11 have cavities in their permanent teeth. As most of us know, having a cavity filled isn’t as much fun as eating the ice cream that encouraged it. I know if there’s something that I can do to spare my children from the ‘drill and fill’ cycle I’ll do it! I don’t know about you, but my kids are ‘snackers’. Rarely do they finish a full meal, but their always ‘hungry’ and what do they want? A treat! While eating 6 small meals a day is great for your metabolism, it can wreak havoc on your teeth. Choosing smarter snacks can help reduce the likely hood that your kids will spend as much time in the dental chair as maybe you and your siblings did.
Here are some examples of some snacks that feel like a treat but aren’t full of sugar.
Unsweetened popcorn. This treat in addition to being highly nutritious and loaded with vitamins and minerals, but it the roughage also helps to exercise the teeth.
- Yogurt, milk and cheese are foods that provide calcium and phosphates which can strengthen the tooth’s surface. A tasty option for keeping your teeth healthy and looking great, cheese makes you produce additional saliva, which destroys the harmful bacteria inside your mouth. In addition, cheese also works to prevent discoloration of your teeth.
- Bananas are high in magnesium, which is also needed to help the enamel of the teeth form properly.
- Carrots and other orange-colored vegetables and fruit are great sources of beta-carotene, which is turned into Vitamin A by the body for strong teeth and bones
- Celery is an effective weapon against the bacteria inside your mouth because it causes you to chew more which produces additional saliva. As you generate saliva, it kills the bad bacteria present in the mouth. The extra water contained in celery is a good way to clean your teeth
- Strawberries are a great natural way to whiten your teeth because the malic acid they contain remove stains.
- Oranges, like strawberries, are also fantastic tooth whiteners. Rub a little of the skin of an orange rind on your teeth after brushing to take advantage to the benefits. My kids love to shove the orange rind in their mouths and make funny faces so this is just a natural side effect!
- Sugar-free lollipops and hard candies are treats that stimulate saliva, which prevents dry mouth. A dry mouth allows plaque to build up on teeth faster, leading to an increased risk of cavities.
- Chewing gum with xylitol. Ok, this isn’t technically a snack, but it really does help reduce bacteria which cause cavities. Xylitol leaves no plaque-causing sticky residue, and truly changes the chemistry in your child’s mouth and can actually help keep cavities away. Xylitol comes from the birch tree so it’s a natural substance, but use caution, it can upset your digestive system if you over do it.
Here are some no-no’s… This will have your kids spending more of their time (and your money!) in the dental chair. Some of these may come as a surprise to you!
- Drinking from a bottle. When children drink from a bottle, the liquid sloshes around their teeth and gums, and any drink with sugar in it will increase the chance of decay. Prolonged exposure to the sugars in milk can cause cavities too, so putting a toddler down with a bottle of anything other than water is a bad idea! Babies need to nurse from mom or bottle, but after their first birthday it’s time to wean unless they have developmental delays. Talk to your pediatrician to decide when your baby is ready to kick the bottle.
- Sippy cups. Limit the amount of time that your child has a sippy cup in her mouth, especially if it is filled with juices which are high in sugars and acids. Try substituting water instead.
- Sipping in general (anything other than water) is a baaaad idea. If you give little Johnny a juice, make it a smaller amount that he can drink down and be finished with. Giving him a 32oz Big Gulp of Coke will take him hours to finish it, which means he’s assaulting his teeth over and over and over again with all of that acid and sugar that we know is an enamel killer.
- Raisins, gummies and dried fruits linger on the teeth, giving the bacteria extra time to cause damage. Even natural sugar (found in dried fruits and raisins) hanging around for a prolonged period of time is terrible for your child’s enamel.
- Long-lasting sugars like lolly pops Jolly Ranchers and cough drops allow the sugar to remain in the mouth for a prolonged period of time.
- Starchy foods like French fries, white bread and pretzels easily lodge between teeth and are quickly converted to sugar by the pre-digestive saliva.
- Acidic foods and drinks. Such as soda and fruit juices eat away the healthy enamel of teeth.
Many of the foods that I’ve pointed out to be damaging to teeth have been shown to damage overall health, and the foods that are favorable to teeth tend to be favorable to health. No surprise. This is just one more reminder of why we should be teaching our children early on the importance of eating well and avoiding sugars.
Get creative with snacks. Show your kids that healthy snacks are fun, too! Prepare tasty combinations that look and taste great, such as apple slices with peanut butter, fruit smoothies, meat and cheese rollups, and yogurt sprinkled with granola and bananas.
And my final words of advice… Be a role model. If you’re sipping on a 2 liter bottle of Mt. Dew all day and ‘fueling’ your body with the quickest thing you can stick in the microwave or the kids leftover Easter candy (what?! They can’t eat it all by themselves!) don’t expect them to choose apple slices over French fries at their favorite fast food joint. Oh, and while we’re on the subject… Have you flossed your teeth today?
In the interest of full disclosure, that’s my kid with chocolate in every crevice of his upper body… It’s ok to treat them now and again.