Best and worst foods for children's teeth

Sour candies really are a major cause of cavities.
Sour candies really are a major cause of cavities. Getty Images/iStockphoto

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month and we are fortunate to have Natalie Rogers, DMD contributing all month long to help parents and caregivers protect their children’s smiles as they grow. Find out more about Dr. Rogers at Queen City Dental.

When considering oral health, the emphasis is mostly on hygiene habits and professional care. Though this is definitely important, (see Dr. Rogers’ previous posts: Dental Health Basics and Brush Those Teeth), another preventative measure of great significance is diet. What we eat on a daily basis can have a profound effect on our teeth. Your child’s diet can be directly responsible for making teeth more susceptible to decay. A few simple dietary changes can often make a BIG difference in what is found at you and your child’s 6 month check-up.

Say no to juice & soda

Two of the biggest culprits affecting oral health are juice and soda. They are both overflowing with sugar, feeding the cavity causing bacteria and allowing them to thrive. As these bacteria take in sugar they create an acid by-product that literally dissolves your teeth’s enamel, allowing the bacteria to infiltrate deeper into the tooth – and a cavity is borne. I urge my patients to avoid these sugary beverages (soda, juice, sports drinks) or at least limit their consumption.

If you do allow your child to drink them, try to keep sipping to a minimum and instead have them drink the entirety of the beverage as quickly as possible. This gives the saliva the opportunity to improve the pH balance of the mouth and fend that bacteria off. If they are sipping all day, the mouth will constantly be fighting a battle of sugar and acid. With kids, it’s easy: just don’t expose them to these drinks early on.

Try Water and milk instead

It’s that simple, and it’s all they need. When you are looking for a special treat, water down that juice; I promise they won’t even notice!

Unstick the candy

Sticky candies are a nightmare for healthy teeth. Caramels, gummy bears, taffy and the like love getting stuck in the grooves of the back teeth. Hours later remnants can still be found deep in those grooves. It’s often not until you go in with your toothbrush that the entirety of the gummy debris comes out. In the meantime, the bad bacteria in your mouth are having a party; especially the bacteria trapped between your teeth and the candy bits.

Limit highly acidic foods

Acidic foods negatively impact your teeth in two manners and should be limited. Firstly, they alter the pH balance of your mouth allowing bacteria to go unchecked from the protective effects of saliva. Secondly, the bacteria themselves can work to de-mineralize the outer layers of enamel on your teeth making them more susceptible to the effects of bacteria. Have your child avoid heavy citrus intake, highly acidic beverages – pineapple and orange juice – and the ever dangerous sour candies. It may sound crazy, but sour candies really are a major cause of cavities. And just like with the sugary drinks, it is worse for people who eat one or two candies at a time all day long.

Chill on the Ice

Finally, always remember ice is for chilling not crunching! Though it is pH balanced and free of sugar, constant crunching on something so hard is bound to cause breaking and chipping of teeth over extended periods of time. Like everything else, it is much easier to avoid this from the beginning than break the habit later in life. So if you see your child enjoying the texture of this snack, remind them the ice is meant to float in their drink until it melts.

Keeping your child’s mouth healthy is as simple as avoiding all those overly crunchy foods that can lead to breaks, while emphasizing water intake and keeping their diet fibrous and low in sugary and acidic products. Their teeth will thank you for it.