Kids eat right.

Eat Right for a Healthy Mouth and Teeth

By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND
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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 in our diet and produce acids that attack teeth. And, 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 life.

The Bad

Avoid putting babies to bed with a bottle. When this happens, breast milk or formula sits on teeth and gums for long periods. And, tooth-decay-causing bacteria go to work!

As children get older and start eating a greater variety of foods, watch their intake of sweets and sticky foods. Frequently eating these types of foods can increase their risk for dental caries. Some of the worst culprits are:

  • 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
  • Sticky foods including caramels, raisins and dried apricots, particularly when eaten alone
  • Lollipops and other hard candies that dissolve slowly
  • Desserts such as cookies, cakes and brownies
  • Sugar, including brown sugar, honey, molasses and agave nectar

Grazing 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.

The Good

Eating fresh fruits and vegetables helps protect teeth. These foods stimulate the production of saliva, which cleanses the mouth and makes it less acidic. Chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after meals and snacks can help prevent tooth decay.

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. It decreases acid levels in the mouth and aids the repair process of early decay

About three in four Americans live in communities with fluoridated water. Bottled waters typically don’t contain 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 diet 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.