kids with healthy teeth have more than just beautiful smiles. Baby teeth help
children speak and chew, while holding a place in the jaw for the permanent
teeth that are still hiding under the gums. But, “poor oral health [at any age]
can impact general health,” says Lisa Harper Mallonee, MPH, RD, LD, registered
dietitian, registered dental hygienist and associate professor at Texas A&M
Baylor College of Dentistry.
never too soon to start caring for your children’s teeth. Before the first
tooth even erupts, Malloonee says, “You really should start swabbing the mouth
after feedings with a soft cloth.” Beginning a few days after birth, wipe the
gums with a soft baby washcloth to remove plaque that can cause decay in
erupting teeth. Dental caries, or tooth decay, are little holes in the teeth
caused by bacteria in the mouth, which thrive on the sugars in our diet and
produce acids that attack the tooth. Dental caries are on the rise among
children, especially between the ages of 2 and 11 years old. Fortunately, good
oral hygiene and a healthy diet can prevent tooth and gum problems throughout
putting babies to bed with a bottle,” says Angela Lemond, RDN, CSP, LD,
spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “It’s common for
babies and toddlers to fall asleep while drinking,” When this happens, breast
milk or formula sits on teeth and gums for long periods, providing an
environment that tooth-decay-causing bacteria love.
children get older and start eating a greater variety of foods, it’s important
to pay attention to their consumption of sweets and sticky foods, Lemond says.
Frequently eating the following foods increases the risk of developing dental
beverages such as sodas, fruit drinks, sports and energy drinks, and sweetened
teas and coffee, especially if sipped over a long period of time
foods like caramels, raisins and dried apricots, particularly when eaten alone
and other hard candies that dissolve slowly
like cookies, cakes and brownies
including brown sugar, honey, molasses and agave nectar
or snacking frequently throughout the day also increases the risk of caries.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that you allow at least two
hours between snacks and meals.
fruits and vegetables helps protect teeth by stimulating the production of saliva,
which cleanses the mouth and and makes it less acidic. Chewing sugar-free gum for
20 minutes after meals and snacks also can help prevent tooth decay.
water with food — and after a meal — helps eliminate bacteria and reduce acid
production. And, if your water is fluoridated, you and your family are getting
extra protection. “Fluoride is a mineral that helps resist tooth decay by
decreasing acid levels in the mouth and even aiding in the repair process of
early decay,” Lemond says.
three-quarters of Americans receive fluoridated water through their community
water system, but some bottled waters don’t contain fluoride, she says. If
you’re not consuming water with fluoride, talk to your dentist about other ways
to get it, including topical fluoride treatments at your dentist’s office.
diet is critical for the health of the mouth and staying healthy, but it won’t
make up for poor dental hygiene. Continue to see your dentist for checkups and
cleanings, and make sure to brush and floss regularly.