Healthy Foods and Snacks
What factors contribute to a healthy smile? While there are numerous variables that play into your child’s dental health, two things that we can control are diet and hygiene. There are certain genetic predispositions that might make some children more susceptible to cavities than others, but for the most part these problems are preventable.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 50% of children aged 6-11 have at least one cavity in their primary teeth (often called baby teeth). It’s no secret that getting a cavity filled or extracted is never fun, so we always recommend a preventative approach. Numerous cavities could highlight a significant problem in your child’s diet. The food that your child eats and their overall dental health are very much related.
Promoting a healthy diet is one of the most important steps that you can take as a parent to ensure that your child will have a lasting smile. This guide will explain fun, simple snacks to share with your children and unhealthy alternatives to avoid.
- Staying hydrated: drinking lots of water throughout the day is an important part of maintaining adequate saliva levels. Inside your mouth, saliva has active compounds that actually fight the buildup of harmful bacteria. It even helps dissolve sticky residues that are latched onto teeth.
- Fiber-rich fruits and vegetables: crunchy fruits and vegetables like spinach, apples, and celery act as dental scrubbers. These tough foods are rich in fiber, meaning they stimulate digestion and saliva production, and they also physically “scrub” the surface of teeth.
- Switch to sugar-free gum: sugar-free gums are now made with an added sweetener called xylitol. Research actually shows that xylitol is tough on bacteria and plaque growth.
- Calcium: cheeses, milks and yogurts are great additions to any child’s diet. From cheese sticks to flavored yogurt, there are dozens of ways to that calcium can become a seamless addition to your child’s diet. The calcium in these foods promotes strong, healthy teeth and enamel.
- Fish: oily fish like salmon, trout, and tuna have some of the highest levels of natural vitamin D, a compound that helps the body absorb calcium. Try eating a prepared fish meal at least once a week for dinner or try something easy like tuna fish sandwiches for lunch.
- Nuts: peanuts, almonds, and walnuts are an easy thing to mix with raisins and berries for homemade trail mix (a great alternative to sugary junk food). Nuts are high in calcium and vitamin D, and also come packed with tons of healthy vitamins like folic acid and phosphorus.
- Whole grains: it’s hard to get kids excited about whole grains, but it can actually be pretty easy if you find a whole grain alternative that they like (maybe something sweet like honey wheat). Starches usually aren’t great for your teeth, but it is very difficult to avoid them. When you do eat carbohydrates, remember that whole grains are loaded with vitamin B and iron that help promote healthy gums.
On the other hand, here is our list of foods to avoid:
- Sugary drinks: it should come as no surprise that caffeinated soft drinks and sweet tea can wreak dental havoc on a child’s mouth. Especially with regular consumption, the acidic ingredients in these drinks eat away at your teeth’s enamel.
- Acidic fruits: highly acidic fruits like oranges, lemons, and limes are packed with citric acid that quickly erode your teeth’s natural enamel. If your child does drink orange juice in the morning, try to limit it to 1 glass per day.
- Starchy snacks: soft, starchy junk foods like potato chips and pretzels can become easily lodged in your teeth. For hours, this food residue can become trapped in your child’s teeth, making it easier for bad bacteria to latch on.
- Sticky candy: of course every parent knows that candy contributes to cavities, but sticky candies are the worst of the bunch. While sweets in general should be eaten only sparingly, children should always avoid chewy candies like lollipops, taffy, caramel, and gummy worms.
Cutting out unhealthy food from your child’s diet might be a difficult task, especially if they’re accustomed to eating their favorite cavity-causing treats on a daily basis. Promoting healthful foods at a young age is the best way to get your child excited about eating right.
Help teach your child about the importance of a healthy diet, not only for your child dental care, but for overall health reasons, as well. It could be the difference between a cavity-free smile and another trip back to the dentist.