Let’s just get this out there: The food battle with young children can be overwhelming. I have a two-year-old, and I have to admit that letting him live on leftover Halloween candy, fruit snacks, and all the other things he pulls from the pantry is tempting. I mean, at least he’d eat something, and I wouldn’t have to think about it, fight over it, and throw away another plate of healthy food. Anyone else feel that way? Alas, parenthood doesn’t work like that. As a mom, I have a responsibility to set my child up for success, and food is a huge factor. While I know food is part of overall well-being, I never considered its effect on dental health specifically. According to our partners at Oak Mountain Pediatric Dentistry, what and how we feed young children is a pretty big deal.
Here’s the good news: A few simple tips from the professionals can set you up for success, and they don’t include always or never. This is real life, and Dr. Jeff Flannery and his staff get that.
Shop the outside perimeter of the grocery store. Have you ever heard the thing about sticking to the outside of the grocery store when you’re trying to adopt healthy habits? The same is true for your children. Choosing their foods from the produce, meat, and dairy sections of the store is a great place to start. By doing this, you’re avoiding the majority of tricky items that wreak havoc on little teeth. Bonus: Everything from the outside perimeter has the same health benefits for your child that you’re seeking for yourself!
When considering dental health, frequency of sugar consumption is more important than the quantity of sugar consumed. For example, it’s better for a child to have three pieces of candy at once or full cup of juice in one sitting than to spread treats throughout the day or sip on the same amount of juice over the the course of several hours. Why? Exposing the teeth to sugar once, even in a larger quantity, will cause fewer cavities than spreading it out. (There’s a lot of science behind this, and it involves pH levels, etc.) Have a treat or a cup of juice, rinse the mouth, and move on.
Keep an extra toothbrush handy. No need for toothpaste. Just an extra brush and a bit of water can make a big difference when your child has special treats, especially if it will be a long time before the bedtime brushing.
Foods to Avoid
When we talk about foods to avoid, we don’t mean all the time. There are special occasions, fun outings, and all kinds of things where treats play an important role. (Anyone else feel nostalgic when you smell Halloween candy all mixed together? Treats are an important part of childhood!) In general, however, there are certain things that shouldn’t be the go-to when you’re at home with a full kitchen at your disposal.
These have as much sugar as soda, sometimes more.
These are tricky because they’re marketed so well, but the sugar content is high. Dilution doesn’t remove any of the sugar, so serving juice mixed with water on a regular basis doesn’t help very much. Juice can certainly be a special treat, but don’t be fooled by claims of health benefits. A whole apple is always better for your child than a glass of its juice.
Most of us know gummies can be rough on little teeth, but have you considered gummy vitamins? There has been an increase in back molar cavities since gummy vitamins came on the market, and it’s because these guys have as much sugar as gummy snacks, and they stay in teeth when taken right before bed. Go with chewable vitamins, preferably Xylitol-based as it’s a sugar alcohol substitute that fights against cavities. Then give a quick drink of water before bed, and you’re good to go. Gummy snacks should be listed under fun treats, and they should be accompanied by a quick brush, brush, brush afterwards. (I’ve found that eating half my child’s gummies myself helps his teeth. Sacrifices.)
We’re looking at you, Goldfish. Unfortunately, crackers are notorious for sticking in children’s teeth and causing problems. While this can be a perfect snack when you’re away from home or on the go, try to choose something else when you can.
Foods to Love
This is Dr. Jeff’s favorite snack for his patients! Apples are a natural cleanser, so they actually assist in keeping your child’s teeth healthy! All fresh fruit is great, but apples have that bit of extra that makes them amazing!
Carrots are so easy! The health benefits are vast, and most kids enjoy them. These are a top pick for Dr. Jeff for sure!
You do have to watch sugar content, but yogurt is a great snack for kids, and they generally enjoy eating it.
Easy to transport. Very little mess. Great snack.
White milk with meals is perfect! Avoid flavored milk with added sugar as it’s just as loaded as soda, sports drinks, and juice.
Xylitol Sweetened Gum
When kids are old enough to have gum, Dr. Jeff encourages something like Trident that is sweetened with Xylitol. This is a fun treat for kids, and it really does help their teeth! The saying, “If you can’t brush, chew this,” is actually true.
You’ve Got This!
There is no need to feel overwhelmed when considering our children’s dental health. Dr. Jeff Flannery and the staff of Oak Mountain Pediatric Dentistry want parents to know caring for little teeth is doable! Following proper nutrition, scheduling regular dental visits, and using little tricks here and there (extra toothbrush!) will ensure our kiddos are set up for success.