What your kids eat and drink will have more of an impact on their teeth than you would expect. A healthy diet is not just important for their general health, but also for their oral health.
Natural, organic or processed sugars are all the same to cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth. All types of sugars and the foods that contain them can play a role in tooth decay. Parents should aim to select foods that will benefit the children’s oral health and general health.
Crunchy fresh fruits and vegetables (such as celery, carrots, and apples) help stimulate the gums and clean the teeth by removing bacteria during the chewing process. They also promote saliva production which washes away food particles and bacteria that adhere to the teeth. The high water content in many fruits and vegetables provides additional cleaning benefits.
Starchy food or carbohydrates can also contribute to decay as they are broken down into smaller sugar molecules. In addition, starchy foods (such as chips, crackers, bread and pasta) tend to be sticky and stay on the tooth surface longer which prolongs the risk of decay. Tooth decay is caused by bacteria in the mouth using sugar from foods and drinks to produce acids that dissolve and damage the teeth.
A food with sugar or starch is safer for teeth if it is eaten with a meal, not as a snack. Keep sweet treats such as chocolates, ice cream and lollies to 1 or 2 a week.
How often and how long a child eats is just as important as what they eat. Frequent snacking or grazing on food between meals will expose the teeth to acid for longer which weakens the enamel and increases the chances of a cavity forming. Try to keep food to 5 sessions a day i.e. 3 main meals and 2 inbetween-meal snacks. After eating, always sip on some water to wash away as much food from the mouth.
You should make water their main drink, and plain cow’s milk is a good additional choice for those aged over 12 months. Tap water tends to contain fluoride which will help reduce the risk of decay.
Sweet drinks or fruit juice can lead to tooth decay and should only be given to a child occasionally. Fruit juice contains natural sugar, and fizzy drinks are acidic and can weaken the enamel. If the child is going to have the occasional juice or soft drink, you can minimise the damage by having them drink through a straw, have it with a meal, and rinse with water straight after.