Nutrition for healthy teeth in children includes consuming a well-balanced, nutritional diet that limits foods more likely to cause cavities (those high in sugars, carbohydrates, and starches) and is high in antioxidants and other nutrients. What your child eats has a direct effect on dental health and plays a vital role in preventive dentistry. Combined with daily brushing and flossing, nutritious eating habits not only promote overall health, but protect your child’s teeth and gums from damaging decay and periodontal disease, resulting in a strong, healthy smile.
Food Choices: Nutrition for Healthy Teeth in Children
Certain foods actually increase tooth strength, protect teeth from cavities, and/or naturally clean the teeth. Other foods tend to linger on teeth, feeding the natural bacteria present in the mouth which attack the teeth and cause decay.
Foods that are especially beneficial to oral health include:
- Raw fruits and vegetables: Crunchy 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.
Raw fruits and vegetables high in water content, as well as fiber and/or other nutrients:
- Leafy, green vegetables, such as spinach and kale, are high in calcium, which strengthens tooth enamel, and other vitamins and minerals which promote oral health.
- Calcium-rich foods: Low-fat cheese, milk, and yogurts, as well as broccoli, contain high levels of calcium which strengthens enamel. Cheese raises pH levels in the mouth which reduces the risk of cavities. Chewing aged cheeses, such as swiss, cheddar, and Monterey jack, also increases saliva which cleanses teeth. Yogurt contains protein (which strengthens teeth) and beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that benefit the teeth and gums by helping to eliminate cavity-causing bacteria.
- Protein: Lean meats (such as turkey, chicken, and white fish), nuts, and low-sugar peanut butter are excellent sources of protein which strengthens tooth enamel. Almonds are a great choice because they are low in sugar and contain both calcium and protein.
- Fluoridated water: Drinking tap water, which contains fluoride in most areas, will strengthen, as well as clean the teeth.
- Sugar-free gum: It may be surprising, but chewing sugarless gum can actually be beneficial to dental health. The chewing action increases saliva production and helps dislodge food particles that may stick in between teeth. Sugarless gum sweetened with Xylitol also helps decrease bacteria. Just be sure to offer chewing gum in moderation, and only when your child is old enough not to swallow it.
Some foods create an environment in which bacteria in the mouth can thrive. Limiting your child’s intake of these certain beverages and foods will lessen the risk of tooth decay, early childhood caries, and gum disease.
Food and drinks to limit include:
- Sweetened beverages: Soda, juice, and other sugary drinks should be limited, as the sugar can linger on the teeth and promote cavity formation. Regular milk and chocolate milk contain sugar, as well, so should be consumed in moderation. Help your child form good dental habits by drinking water as often as possible.
- Snacks high in sugar, starches, and carbohydrates: When chips, pretzels, and sweet snacks like cookies, cakes, and candy remain on the teeth for lengthy periods, the tooth decay process can begin. Frequent snacking is more damaging than the amount of snack consumed. The more time allowed between eating makes it easier for the saliva to clean the teeth. Encourage your child to brush his/her teeth after snacking, if possible.
- Sticky or chewy foods: Candies, such as jellybeans, gummies, caramels, and lollipops can stick to teeth long after they have been consumed. Chewy foods, such as granola bars and raisins, are also difficult for saliva to wash away. Honey, molasses, and syrup coat the teeth, allowing the sugar to feed bacteria and promote plaque development. When offering sweets, try to incorporate them after a meal, when saliva is already increased.
Hints to Promote Eating for Dental Health
- Offer healthy food choices multiple times: Children often need to try a specific food up to 15 times before they like it. Don’t let rejection discourage you. Keep offering small portions and, remember, you probably eat many foods now that you once disliked.
- Try different textures and temperatures: Some children love raw vegetables but dislike them cooked and vice versa. Chopped vegetables may be easier for a child to chew than whole vegetables. Partially cooked carrots may be easier to eat than raw ones. Your child may prefer fresh over frozen vegetables. Try different methods until you discover what your child enjoys.
- Hold the spices: Try serving foods without seasonings at first, then add them in to see what your child prefers. Some children love spices, while others find even the mildest flavors “hot”. If your child prefers plain foods, just add spices at the table for the rest of the family.
Feeding your child a well-balanced, nutritional diet, along with teaching proper brushing and flossing techniques and scheduling regular dental check-ups, will promote healthy habits that will benefit your child’s dental well-being for life.
If you have questions or concerns about nutritional choices that support dental health or are looking for a dental home, please contact Dr. Zarmin Lalani and her team at Discovery Kids Pediatric Dentistry Frisco, Texas, by completing an online appointment request or phone 469-365-5437.