A healthy diet is important for a child’s oral health. That is because everything they put into their mouth will come into contact with their teeth. Certain food are especially bad for the teeth, such as sugary snacks and processed food that can eat away the tooth enamel and cause a series of dental problems as they grow up, such as tooth decay.
Most of the candies you can find in the supermarket are made of processed sugar. Hard candies tend to dissolve slowly as well, giving the bacteria that is already in their mouth more time to produce harmful acids that can dissolve the teeth enamel. Most importantly, if they get too excited and quickly take a bite, they might chip their teeth.
Sticky candies cause the most harm among them all, mainly because they stick onto the teeth easily and tend to stay in the crevices where toothbrushes might miss, enabling the bacteria to feed on the leftovers for a long time, making it easier for the bacteria in the mouth to grow. One of the worst ones possible is gummy bears.
Some desserts contain more sugar than others such as cakes, cookies and pies. As sugar is often the main perpetrator of poor oral health, carefully curate their diet to only include a minimal amount of such food that can cause cavities or tooth decay.
Did you know that soft drinks, while incredibly tasty, are actually acidic and full of sugar? Indeed, there are many brands that make sugar-free soft drinks today. However, it is still acidic, and acidic beverages promote tooth decay and dental erosion. What you can do is to advise your child to rinse their mouth or drink a cup of water shortly after they finish drinking a can of carbonated drink.
Generally, biting on hard objects has always been bad for the teeth, and that includes chewing on ice cubes, so make sure that your child does not pick up this bad habit. As their teeth are still growing, chewing on ice cubes can translate into dental emergencies such as chipped, cracked or broken teeth.
Peanut butter is both sweet and sticky and is one of the most popular food that cause cavities among children. Its sticky texture makes it easy for it to stay on your child’s teeth, and without proper dental care, it will damage the teeth enamel over time.
Crackers are food that you should avoid because they are refined carbohydrates. Consuming too much of those can lead to inflammation of the body, which directly contributes to various chronic dental illnesses such as periodontitis and gingivitis. Crackers also become soft and sticky when chewed, and will stay lodged in the teeth for a long time after eating, so avoid buying crackers for your child.
Most pickled food contains vinegar which is acidic, and acidic food can stain and even wear away the teeth enamel. Most of them also contain sugar, which should be kept to a minimum to prevent cavities.
Dried fruits contain a lot of sugar, and are one of the bad food for teeth your child should avoid because of their sticky texture. It is able to stay lodged in the teeth for quite some time, especially in the pits and grooves, which becomes the perfect feeding ground for bacteria.
Oranges, grapefruits, and lemons are packed with vitamin C and are generally good for health. However, their acid content can erode the enamel of your child’s growing teeth, so try to cut these three fruits from your child’s diet.
Eating a bowl of vegetables with high fibre is like giving your teeth a good wash. Vegetables are fibrous and watery in nature, and chewing vegetables generates a lot of saliva to naturally wash your teeth.
The fibre content in green vegetables also helps to remove food debris and plaque while you chew them, preventing the chances of cavities. On top of that, leafy vegetables can also improve teeth and gum health because they contain folic acid. These are the reasons why most dental-friendly diets consist of vegetables.
Fruits that are rich in fibre consist of only natural sugar. They are considered good alternatives to sweet snacks, so encourage your child to consume them whenever they have cravings.
Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are rich in calcium, which plays a vital role in building strong teeth.2 Most kinds of cheese also contain a protein called casein that helps remineralise and strengthen the tooth enamel.
Did you know that 99.5% of our saliva is made up of water? With optimum water levels, saliva can effectively break down the food we consume while neutralising bacterial acid in the mouth and preventing tooth decay. If we don’t drink enough water every day, our saliva thickens and problems such as bad breath will strike in due time.
Green tea is a natural source of fluoride, an ingredient often found in toothpaste that helps build stronger teeth. The antioxidants in green tea also help improve gum health.
Chewing gum helps stimulate the production of saliva, which in turn helps clean your child’s teeth. There are also options such as sugar-free gum with xylitol, an ingredient that helps reduce the bacteria in your mouth. However, make sure your child is 5 years old and above before letting them try some.
Another important food in most recommended dental diets is nuts. Nuts are packed with tons of important nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus.
Peanuts are a great source of calcium and vitamin D, and almonds contain good amounts of calcium, which is why this food is beneficial and healthy for your child’s teeth and gums. Some nuts might be tough to chew, so make sure you choose try them before letting your children eat them.
Whole grains are made up of complex carbohydrates which give bacteria less digestible food for them to grow. They also offer other nutrients that actively help to keep your child’s teeth and gums to stay healthy.
Proteins are important sources of nutrients for your growing child. Fatty fish such as salmon are loaded with phosphorus, an important mineral that helps protect the teeth enamel. Moreover, while your children chew and enjoy their food, ample saliva is produced to remove plaque that causes tooth decay. Most seafood also naturally contains fluoride, which is handy in preventing cavities.
Food with natural antibacterial properties such as garlic and onion are actually good for your teeth as they help reduce unwanted bacteria lingering in the mouth. However, it can stink up your breath, so take it in moderation.
Other than minimising your child’s consumption of the food that are bad for teeth, there are other ways to reduce the risk of your child getting tooth decay:
Daily brushing and flossing help remove food debris and cavity-causing bacteria from the surfaces of your child’s teeth.
It is not uncommon for your child to either accidentally or purposefully eat their toothpaste, so it is safer to use safe-level fluoridated toothpaste that is specially formulated to be safe and gentle for kids.
This helps parents to stay aware of their child’s oral condition and what they can do about it. For instance, If the dentist finds that your child’s teeth have deep pits and fissures, they will recommend fissure sealants to prevent food particles from getting lodged all the time.
Instead of snacking throughout the day, eat sugary, carbohydrate-rich or acidic food just during meal times to shorten the amount of time teeth are exposed to acid. The body produces more saliva to help digest larger meals, which washes away more food and helps neutralize harmful acids before they can attack teeth.
If it is difficult to entirely remove snacks from your child’s diet, allow them to only eat snacks during meal time (lunch and dinner) to shorten the amount of time their teeth are exposed to acidic, sugary or carbohydrate-rich food.
The body produces more saliva during mealtime as we naturally eat more, helping neutralise harmful acids from the food before they can cause any harm. As an alternative, let your child snack on fruits or dairy products instead. It not only fills their tummy, but is healthy too!
Prevention is always better than cure, and it can save your child a lot of pain in the future. Good eating habits and comprehensive oral care can protect your child's teeth and gums from tooth decay and periodontal disease, resulting in a strong, healthy smile.
Kaur, P., Singh, S., Mathur, A., Makkar, D. K., Aggarwal, V. P., Batra, M., Sharma, A., & Goyal, N. (2017). Impact of Dental Disorders and its Influence on Self Esteem Levels among Adolescents. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR, 11(4), ZC05–ZC08.
Adegboye, A. R., Boucher, B. J., Kongstad, J., Fiehn, N. E., Christensen, L. B., & Heitmann, B. L. (2016). Calcium, vitamin D, casein and whey protein intakes and periodontitis among Danish adults. Public health nutrition, 19(3), 503–510. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980015001202