Kids eat right.

Eat Right for a Healthy Mouth and Teeth

Contributors: Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND and Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
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Young kids with healthy teeth have more than just beautiful smiles. Baby teeth help children speak and chew. They also hold the jaw in 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.

What to Watch

You may already know to avoid serving foods and beverages with added sugars to children under age 2 and to limit the intake of added sugars as children get older and start eating 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 potential tooth decay.

Some foods to be mindful of because they stay in the mouth longer include:

  • Sugary beverages 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, like 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 that are older, limit snacking throughout the day and serve 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 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. Find out about 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.