Your child needs a balanced diet for healthy teeth and gums. This includes snacks as well as meals. But what is a healthy snack? The snacking guidelines below should help you set the proper limits. Remember, it all starts with you. It might be a good idea to print out the guide and keep it near the fridge! Our dental topics page provides other information on tips & safety during pediatric dentistry.
Health Eating Affects My Child's Health
A: A healthy diet is a balanced diet that naturally supplies all the nutrients your child needs to grow. And what's a balanced diet? One that includes the following major food groups every day: fruits and vegetables; breads and cereals; milk and dairy products; meat, fish and eggs.
How do I make my child's diet safe for his teeth?
A: First, be sure he has a balanced diet. Then, check how frequently he eats foods with sugar or starch in them. Foods with starch include breads, crackers, pasta and such snacks as pretzels and potato chips. When checking for sugar, look beyond the sugar bowl and candy dish. A variety of foods contain one or more types of sugar, and all types of sugars can promote dental decay. Fruits, a few vegetables and most milk products have at least one type of sugar.
Sugar can be found in many processed foods, even some that do not taste sweet. For example, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich not only has sugar in the jelly, but may have sugar added to the peanut butter. Sugar is also added to such condiments as catsup and salad dressings.
Should my child give up all foods with sugar or starch?
A: Certainly not! Many provide other nutrients your child needs. You simply need to select and serve them wisely. A food with sugar or starch is safer for teeth if it's eaten with a meal, not as a snack. Sticky foods, such as dried fruit or toffee, are not easily washed away from the teeth by saliva, water or milk. So, they have more cavity-causing potential than foods more rapidly cleared from the teeth. Talk to your pediatric dentist about selecting and serving foods that protect your child's dental health.
Does a balanced diet assure that my child is getting enough fluoride?
A: No. A balanced diet does not guarantee the proper amount of fluoride for the development and maintenance of your child's teeth. If you do not live in a fluoridated community or have an ideal amount of naturally occurring fluoride in your well water, your child needs a fluoride supplement during the years of tooth development. Your pediatric dentist can help assess how much supplemental fluoride your child needs based upon the amount of fluoride in your drinking water and factors such as your child's age and weight.
My youngest isn't on solid foods yet. Do you have suggestions for her?
A: Don't nurse your daughter to sleep or put her to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, juice or sweetened liquid. While she sleeps, any unswallowed liquid in the mouth supports bacteria that produce acids and attack the teeth. Protect your child from severe tooth decay by putting her to bed with nothing more than a pacifier or bottle of water.
How does a good diet lead to healthy teeth?
A: Healthy eating habits lead to healthy teeth. Like the rest of the body, the teeth, bones and soft tissues of the mouth need a well-balanced diet. Children should eat a variety of foods from the five major food groups. Most snacks that children eat can lead to cavity formation. The more frequently a child snacks, the greater the chance for tooth decay. How long food remains in the mouth also plays a role. For example, hard candy and breath mints stay in the mouth a long time, which causes longer acid attacks on tooth enamel. If your child must snack, choose nutritious foods such as vegetables, low-fat yogurt and low-fat cheese which are healthier and better for children’s teeth.
How do I prevent cavities?
A: Good oral hygiene removes bacteria and the left-over food particles that combine to create cavities. For infants, use a wet gauze pad or clean washcloth to wipe the plaque from teeth and gums. Avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle filled with anything other than water. See "Baby Bottle Tooth Decay” for more information.
For older children, brush their teeth at least twice a day. Also, watch the number of snacks containing sugar that you give your children. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends six-month visits to the pediatric dentist beginning at your child’s first birthday. Routine visits will start your child on a lifetime of good dental health.
Your pediatric dentist may also recommend protective sealants or home fluoride treatments for your child. Sealants can be applied to your child’s molars to prevent decay on hard-to-clean surfaces.
I heard cheese was good for my child, is that true?
A: Cheese is one of the healthiest snacks for your child’s teeth. In addition to providing large amounts of calcium, cheese also fights cavities, stimulates the body’s salivary glands to clear the mouth of debris, protects teeth from acids that can weaken them and disrupts the development of cavities. Calcium and Phosphorus found in cheese work to re-mineralize the enamel of your child’s teeth.
Should my child get fluoride varnish?
A: Children who have fluoride varnish applied to their teeth by a dentist are four times less likely to get cavities. "Although tooth decay is largely preventable, it remains the most common chronic disease of children – 5 times more common than asthma (59% versus 11%)." **Information provided by the CDC.
Any final dvice on healthy eating?
A: Yes. Here are tips for your child's diet and dental health.
- Ask your pediatric dentist to help you assess your child's diet.
- Shop smart! Do not routinely stock your pantry with sugary or starchy snacks. Buy "fun foods" just for special times.
- Limit the number of snack times; choose nutritious snacks.
- Provide a balanced diet, and save foods with sugar or starch for mealtimes.
- Don't put your young child to bed with a bottle of milk, formula or juice.
- If your child chews gum or sips soda, choose those without sugar.
Read more about the effects of nutrition on your child’s teeth: Eating Healthy to Promote Strong Teeth in Children