Nutrition and Your Child's Dental Health

Everyone dreads hearing the dentist say the "C" word -- cavity -- but there are nutritional habits that can help prevent cavities.

Don't put your baby to bed with a bottle or let her fall asleep while nursing. When babies suck, saliva is produced, and saliva controls acid in the mouth. When babies fall asleep while feeding, formula or breast milk remains pooled around the teeth.

Fluoride makes tooth enamel more resistant. If you don't have fluoride in your water supply, you may need to provide your infant with a fluoride supplement. Be aware, however, that children can get too much fluoride, which is evidenced by white marks on the teeth.

Certain foods influence tooth health.

  1. Type of food:
    Bacteria feeds on carbohydrates, so be wary of breads and cereals. These foods are complex carbohydrates, but when chewed, break down into simple sugars.
  2. Texture of food:
    The longer teeth are exposed to food, the higher the risk of developing a cavity. Stay away from sticky foods -- jelly beans or gum drops, for example -- and other substances that get stuck in your teeth, such as pretzels and chips.
  3. Frequency of eating:
    Some studies show that the more often a child eats foods high in simple sugars, the more likely he is to develop cavities.
  4. Method of eating:
    Eating a snack (one food alone) may put a child greater risk for developing cavities than eating a meal, when several foods are eaten in combination.

 

Foods high in sugar -- candy, desserts, fruit -- promote tooth decay. But although fruit is high in simple sugars, of course you needn't eliminate it from your child's diet. The trick is to balance it with something healthier for the teeth. These foods are high in protein, calcium and phosphorous; have moderate amounts of fat, and stimulate saliva. Eating apples with peanut butter is a good match, as are cheese and crackers.

 

Cavities are most prevalent in the teenage years because kids often decide for themselves what they want to eat, and it's easy to make unhealthy choices. You can help point them in the right direction by stocking your pantry with healthy selections and by setting a good example yourself -- eat well-balanced meals and, of course, brush twice a day!

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