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Nutrition and healthy teeth

Experts agree that children need food from all the major food groups to grow properly and stay healthy. Too many carbohydrates, whether from sugars (for example, from cakes, biscuits, sweets and other sugary foods and drinks) or savoury foods and starches (for example, crisps) can cause tooth decay. How long the carbohydrates remain on the teeth is the main factor that influences tooth decay.

Tips for selecting and eating foods that are better for your child's teeth:

  • Keep lots of fruit and vegetables in your house to offer as healthy snacks instead of carbohydrates. Choose fruits and vegetables that contain a high volume of water, such as pears, melons, celery and cucumbers. Limit bananas and raisins as these contain concentrated sugar, and brush teeth about an hour after these fruits are eaten.
  • Serve cheese with lunch or as a snack. Cheese, especially cheddar, Swiss cheese and other aged cheeses help to trigger the flow of saliva, which helps wash food particles away from teeth.
  • Avoid sticky, chewy foods. Raisins, dried figs, muesli bars, flapjacks, jelly beans, caramel, honey and syrup stick to teeth. This makes it difficult for saliva to wash them away. If your child consumes these types of products, get them to brush their teeth about an hour after eating.
  • Serve sugary treats with meals, not as snacks. If you plan to give your child any sweets, give them as desserts immediately following the meal. There is usually an increased amount of saliva in the mouth around mealtimes, making it easier to wash food away from teeth. A mealtime drink also helps to wash away food particles on teeth.
  • Get your children into the habit of eating as few snacks as possible. The frequency of snacking is far more important than the quantity consumed. Time between meals allows saliva to wash away food particles that bacteria would otherwise feast on. Frequent snacking, without brushing afterwards, provides constant fuel to feed bacteria, which leads to plaque development and tooth decay. Try to limit snacks as much as possible and to no more than one or two a day.
  • Avoid sugary foods that linger on the teeth. Lollipops, hard sweets, cough drops and mints all contribute to tooth decay because they continuously coat the teeth with sugar.
  • Buy foods that are sugar-free or unsweetened.
  • Never put your baby to bed with a bottle filled with milk, formula, juice or fizzy drink. If your baby needs a bottle at bedtime, fill it with plain water.
  • Offer your child plain water instead of juice or fizzy drinks. Juices, fizzy drinks, squash and even milk contain sugar. Water does not harm the teeth and helps wash away any food particles that may be clinging to teeth.
  • Include good sources of calcium in your child's diet to build strong teeth. Good sources include milk, broccoli and yoghurt.

Other tips:

  • If your child chews chewing gum, encourage him or her to choose xylitol-sweetened or sugar-free gum. Xylitol has been shown to reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth and the chewing action helps increase the flow of saliva. Don’t let them overdo it, however, or problems with the jaw joint might occur.
  • Use fluoride and brush and floss your child's teeth. The best way to prevent tooth decay is to use a fluoride toothpaste every day. The fluoride seeps inside the tooth to reverse early decay. Make sure that your child brushes their teeth at least twice a day and after each meal or snack if possible. If brushing between meals is not possible, at least rinse the mouth with water several times. Floss your child's teeth at least once a day to help remove particles between teeth and below the gum line. You should make sure that young children do not swallow the fluoride toothpaste, and check with your water supply company to see if there is fluoride already added to the water. Too much fluoride can cause permanent staining of children’s teeth.
  • Be sure to brush your child's teeth after giving him or her medicine. Medicines such as cough syrups contain sugar that bacteria in the mouth use to make acids. These acids can eat away at the enamel -- the protective top layer of the tooth.
  • Visit the dentist regularly. Your child should make his or her first visit to the dentist by the age of two and a half, although opinions vary. Once a child has some teeth, it may be an idea to take him or her with you to your own dental appointment, just so they become familiar with the dentist and the surroundings, even if they don’t have an examination. Getting regular dental check-ups will also help detect any developing dental problems early.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on March 01, 2017

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