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Eat Right for a Healthy Mouth and Teeth

Contributors: Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND

Reviewers: Academy Nutrition Information Services Team

Published: February 23, 2022

Reviewed: February 19, 2024

Eat Right for a Healthy Mouth and Teeth
noblige/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Young kids with healthy teeth have more than just beautiful smiles. Baby teeth help children speak and chew. They also hold a place for the permanent teeth that are hiding under the gums. But poor oral health at any age can impact overall health.

It's never too soon to start caring for your children's teeth. Beginning a few days after birth, wipe the gums with a soft baby washcloth. This removes plaque that can cause decay in emerging teeth. Dental caries, or tooth decay, are little holes in the teeth caused by bacteria in the mouth. Caries thrive on the sugars and starches in our diet and produce acids that attack teeth. Fortunately, good oral hygiene and a healthy eating routine can help reduce the risk of tooth and gum problems throughout life.

Reduce Risk of Dental Caries

You may already follow recommendations, like to avoid serving foods and beverages with added sugars to children younger than 2 years old and to limit the consumption of added sugars as children get older and eat a greater variety of foods. However, sweets aren’t the only foods that can increase the risk for dental caries. When carbohydrates stay in the mouth for an extended period of time, they interact with plaque and produce acid, which may cause tooth decay.

Be mindful of foods that stay in the mouth longer, including:

  • Beverages with added sugars, such as sodas, fruit drinks, sports and energy drinks, and sweetened teas and coffee. Especially if sipped over a long period of time.
  • Any foods that stick to the teeth, such as caramels, dried fruit or chips.
  • Lollipops and other hard candies that dissolve slowly in the mouth.

Avoid putting babies to bed with a bottle. When this happens, breast milk or formula sits on teeth and gums for long periods which causes bacteria to go to work. It’s also a choking risk.

For kids who are older, limit snacking throughout the day and serve food with water. Drinking water with meals and snacks, along with brushing and flossing after, helps to remove food particles and reduce the risk of cavities.

Building Good Oral Health Habits

Drinking water with food — and after a meal — helps get rid of bacteria and reduces acid production. And, if your home has fluoridated water, you’re getting extra protection. Fluoride is a mineral that helps resist tooth decay.

About three in four Americans live in communities with fluoridated water. Bottled waters typically don’t contain optimal amounts of fluoride. If your family does not drink water with fluoride, talk to your dentist and find other ways to get fluoride. For example, your dentist may need to apply a fluoride treatment to your kids’ teeth.

A nutritious eating plan is critical for the health of the mouth and staying healthy. But, it won’t make up for poor dental hygiene. See your dentist for checkups and cleanings and teach your kids to brush and floss regularly.

Kids Eat Right content is brought to you by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation, the only charitable organization devoted exclusively to supporting nutrition and dietetics professionals. Because the Foundation relies solely on donations to thrive, the success and impact of its programs and services is directly attributed to the generous support of donors.

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