Are You Feeding Your Kids Tooth-Friendly Foods

Dr Marietjie Weakley BChD(Pret) dipOdont(UWC)

As parents we all try to get our children to eat snacks and lunches that are good for their growing bodies and teeth.  This can be a daunting task – with their friends eating sugary and starchy junk food!  Advertising in the media, food sold in grocery stores and peer pressure, provides a big challenge for parents to make healthy food choices for their children.

Q: What is a healthy diet for my child then?
A balanced diet will supply all the nutrients your child needs to grow. If they lack certain nutrients, the development of healthy, decay-resistant teeth and gums, will not be possible. They need enough raw fruit, vegetables, grains, meat, beans, nuts, cheese and milk.

Q: How does children’s diet affect their dental health?
Increased, regular intake of starches and sugars will increase the risk of tooth decay. The added sugars in refined food and soft drinks assist plaque to develop and accumulate on teeth.

Q: How does plaque formation cause tooth decay?
Plaque is a sticky layer full of bacteria on teeth. These bacteria digest some of the sugars and produces acids that can weaken tooth enamel.  If the acid remains on the tooth surface for a long time, it can cause those areas of the tooth to decay.

Q: Which foods are bad for the teeth?
Some foods and drinks have a high sugar and acid content. This includes: sweets, chocolates, cookies, cake, sugar-containing cool drinks (especially fizzy drinks!), snacks that stick to teeth, some cereals, chips, crackers and dried fruits.
The harder and tougher food, the worse the effect on the teeth will be.  Marshmallows and jelly-type of sweets could be chosen instead of hard suckers and toffees!

Q: Are all sugars harmful to teeth?
Natural sugars in milk and fruit are not regarded as a significant problem.  The added sugars in foods and drinks are a risk not only to the teeth, but also to general health!

Q: Is there any replacement for cane sugar?
A healthy alternative that reduces 80 % of tooth decay is Xylitol.  This can be used as a sugar replacement.  It is also recommended to use Xylitol on a daily basis, for instance in the form of sweets, sugar-free Xylitol containing chewing gum, Xylitol gel, etc.

Q:  How do I establish healthy eating habits?

  • It is easier to do this when children are very young and parents are more or less in control of their diet.
  • The volume of sugar consumed is important, but it is the frequency of sugar and starch intake that does the most damage.
  • Offer your children fruit instead of sweets or chocolates.
  • Teach them to “dilute” the acidity in the mouth regularly by regular intake of water after meals and in between snacking.
  • Eating cheese after a meal can reduce the effect of acid in the mouth.
  • Babies should not be put to bed and left with a bottle of juice or even milk, as this can cause baby bottle decay.  Plain water is the safest drink for the baby between feeding.

Q:  Is there any other foods that can help prevent tooth decay?

  • YES! Certainly! Foods that require vigorous chewing such as raw fruit and vegetables stimulate the flow of saliva.  Saliva dilutes acids and helps to wash food away.
  • Older children can chew sugarless Xylitol-containing gum that will also stimulate saliva production.
  • TIPS:
    • Keep only nutritious foods in the house!
    • Restrict high-sugar foods to set mealtimes rather that giving it by itself as a snack.
    • Serve cheese as part of lunch or a snack

Q: What about fruit juices, sports drinks and flavored milk?
Unfortunately fruit juices contain very concentrated fruit sugars, which could be really damaging to teeth, especially given in bottles or sippy cups.  This would feed bacteria that produce acids and attack the teeth.
Sport drinks and flavored milk also contain huge amounts of sugar and continuous sipping on this could cause severe tooth decay.

Q:  What about birthday parties!!!?
Let children brush their teeth before they go to a birthday party.  This would clean the mouth of plaque, and dilute acids, and prepare the mouth for the “acid-attack” at the birthday party!!!
Teach them to drink as much water as possible after having sweets, snacks or sugar containing drinks.

REMEMBER:

  • A HEALTHY DIET IS NOT ONLY GOOD FOR DEVELOPMENT OF TEETH, BONES AND BODY.  IT ALSO ADDS TO BUILDING UP THE RESISTANCE AGAINST VIRAL AND BACTERIAL INFECTIONS.
  • OUR BRAIN NEEDS NUTRIENTS AND ENOUGH WATER TO BE ABLE TO THINK, LEARN AND REMEMBER.
  • A NUTRISIOUS DIET PRODUCES ENOUGH ENERGY TO GET US THROUGH THE DAY!
  • A HEALTHY BODY KEEPS A HEALTHY MIND!!!
  • EXCERSIZE REGULARLY
  • GOOD LUCK IN ENCOURAGING YOUR CHILDREN TO EAT GOOD, HEALTHY, FOODS.  AND SEEING THAT ROME WAS NOT BUILD IN ONE DAY – BE PATIENT AND PERSERVERE! IT IS DEFINITELY WORTH IT!!!!

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