At Kids Mile High Pediatric Dentistry, we spend a lot of time advising parents on how to keep their kiddos’ mouths happy and healthy. Much of that advice revolves around how often to brush and floss, how to put the kibosh on things like thumb sucking and pacifier use and which treats to enjoy in moderation to keep the sugar bugs at bay. While these are all important topics and nothing tops brushing and flossing as far as healthy habits to promote strong teeth in kids, nutrition shouldn’t be overlooked either. There are certain foods that are good for children’s teeth, particularly those rich in vitamins and minerals. Combining a balanced diet and excellent oral hygiene could help your child earn their place in the cavity-free club.
What Foods Should Kids Eat for Healthy Teeth?
No single food is the magic solution for creating teeth that will withstand any and all cavities. However, eating a healthy diet can create stronger bones, including the teeth, and create the optimal environment in your child’s mouth. Here are a few tooth-friendly foods and drinks for kids:
- Water: Little ones over the age of two should be drinking mostly water to stay hydrated. Water has no sugar or carbohydrates, both of which the bacteria in the mouth feed on to produce acids that damage the teeth and cause cavities. Water also acts as a rinse to dislodge food debris between brushing sessions. It keeps the mouth from getting too dry and encourages the spit to flow. Spit neutralizes those acids we just mentioned for healthy teeth and gums. Major bonus points if the water contains fluoride as fluoride is super important for strengthening young teeth.
- Raw carrots, cauliflower, apples and celery: Crunchy fruits and veggies are some of the best tooth friendly foods for kids. Consider them nature’s toothbrushes. The act of eating them scrapes away plaque and cavity-causing bacteria. Keep in mind, while apples are extremely healthy, they do contain acids so it’s best to brush before eating one and rinse really well after to decrease the effects of the acid on the enamel.
- Cheese: A recent study found that cheese may have cavity-fighting properties. It increases the pH level of the mouth (a low pH puts a person at risk for tooth erosion) and stimulates the production of saliva. Researchers also believe that certain components in cheese might stick to the tooth enamel protecting it from damaging acids.
- Low-fat Milk and Yogurt: Low-fat dairy gives your child the calcium they need without the saturated fat. Calcium strengthens the teeth, along with all of your little one’s bones, and is a key mineral involved in keeping enamel nice and strong.
- Oranges, strawberries, kiwis, peppers and cantaloupe: These are among the best foods to improve gum health since they all contain high levels of vitamin C, which destroys the types of bacteria that can cause gingivitis and encourages collagen production in the gum tissue. Citrus fruits are acidic so it’s best to wait at least 30 minutes after eating or drinking something citrusy before brushing since it can temporarily make the enamel vulnerable to brushing-related wear.
- Leafy Greens and Broccoli: Just like milk and yogurt, broccoli and dark leafy greens are rich in calcium and other nutrients that can strengthen the enamel on the teeth.
- Eggs: The unassuming but highly delicious egg is a powerhouse of nutrients including vitamin D, protein and phosphates. These all play a role in bone health, particularly the vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium, to strengthen and maintain healthy teeth.
- Nut and Seeds: Nuts and seeds have oils and fats that can coat the teeth to act as a force field against bacteria and strengthen the enamel. Some varieties even include calcium making them even more awesome for your child’s oral health.
- Sugarless Gum with Xylitol: Okay, so maybe gum technically isn’t a food but believe it or not, sugar-free gum can actually be an excellent way to keep kids’ teeth healthy. The act of chewing gum stimulates the salivary glands and as we know, spit is the mouth’s BFF and a superhero in the battle against cavities. Xylitol kills sugar bugs, so it’s an ingredient to look for.
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Foods that are Bad for Kids’ Teeth
We’re all about having everything in moderation. Hey, even Dr. Paddy has been known to eat a piece of candy from time to time. Allowing your offspring to occasionally indulge in the following list of cavity-causing culprits is okay as long as it’s not a regular occurrence and they brush after. With that being said, these are the worst foods for your child’s teeth:
- Sugary Beverages: Sports drinks, soda and juice are full of sugar and we all know, sugar and kid’s teeth don’t mix. These drinks can cause cavities and increase the risk for gum disease.
- Lemon and Grapefruit: Vitamin C is amazing for teeth and gum health, which is why we have citrus delights on the list of both the best and worst foods for children’s teeth. Lemon and grapefruit happen to be highly acidic and the biggest offenders when it comes to eating away at enamel over time, so if your kid can get their citrus fix elsewhere, it’s probably for the best.
- Fizzy Drinks: Most fizzy drinks have a ton of sugar, which we’ve already established is no good for young chompers. However, even some of the sugar-free versions have acids that can erode tooth enamel.
- Chewy Candy: This one is a double whammy. All candy contains sugar so you shouldn’t eat it too often. However, chewy varieties like taffy, caramel and gummy bears, get stuck in the teeth and are harder to brush away. The longer the teeth are exposed to the sugar, the more likely it is to cause harm.
- Starchy Foods: Carbohydrate-rich foods made of white flour like bread, pasta, chips and white rice, turn into simple sugars and have the same effect as regular old sugar on the teeth. After eating starchy food, make sure your little one brushes their teeth.
How to Keep Your Child’s Teeth Strong
In addition to paying attention to the types of food your child is eating, there are a few nutrition-related habits that can help keep their smile dazzling as well:
- Avoid Bottles in the Crib: The sugars in milk and formula can cause what is known as baby bottle tooth decay if you give your baby a bottle to sleep with or consistently nurse them to sleep once their teeth have erupted. When your little one is snoozing, their saliva production is low and the sugars will sit on the teeth. Instead, try to feed them while they’re still awake and then put them down for naptime for bedtime.
- Try Sugar-Free Medicines: We know it’s hard to get your child to take their medicine when it tastes lousy. If it’s a short-term prescription, flavored versions aren’t the end of the world. However, if your child will be taking a medication for an extended period of time, ask their pediatrician for the sugar-free kind.
- Bedtime Drinks: Babies aren’t the only ones who sometimes like to have a drink before drifting off. Letting toddlers or even older kids have chocolate milk, regular milk or juice at bed time can lead to cavities. After they brush their teeth, give them a glass of water to quench their thirst.
- Frequent Snacking: Who doesn’t love a good snack? While eating small, healthy meals throughout the day is actually good for you, really frequent snacking gives the tooth monsters a constant supply of fuel. Try to limit snacking to once or twice a day and always have your child brush afterwards.
Sticking to these guidelines and brushing and flossing daily will help to maintain your child’s tooth and gum health. Regular check-ups and cleanings at the dentist’s office are also essential. Looking for an Englewood, Colorado pediatric dentist? We know just the office! Contact Kids Mile High Pediatric Dentistry and let’s work together to ensure your little one’s pearly whites stay in fantastic shape.