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Nutrition and your child's teeth

A child's teeth are affected by what they eat and drink.

They need a healthy, balanced diet to help them grow and maintain healthy teeth, but the food and drink choices can also affect the risk of tooth decay and fillings.

Too many carbohydrates, sugars (for example, from cakes, biscuits, sweets, milk, and other sugary foods and drinks), and starches (for example, white bread and crisps) can cause tooth decay. The length of time these foods remain on the teeth is the main factor that leads to tooth decay.

The best thing you can do as a parent is to teach your child to make healthy food choices. Here are some tooth-friendly foods to serve your children, along with some other tips:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Offer fruits and vegetables as a snack instead of carbohydrates. Fruits and vegetables that contain a high volume of water, such as pears, melons, celery and cucumbers are best. Limit banana and raisin consumption as these contain concentrated sugars, or if you serve these fruits, try to brush your child's teeth immediately after they eat.
  • Cheese: Serve cheese with lunch or as a snack, especially cheddar, Gouda, Swiss and other aged cheeses, which help to trigger the flow of saliva. Saliva helps to wash food particles away from teeth.
  • Avoid sticky, chewy foods: Raisins, dried figs, cereal bars, chewy biscuits, jelly beans, caramel, honey, molasses and syrup stick to teeth, making it difficult for saliva to wash the sugar away. Have your child brush immediately after having these types of snacks.
  • Serve sugary treats with meals, not as snacks. If you plan to give your child any sweets, give them as a pudding immediately following the meal. There is usually an increased amount of saliva in the mouth around mealtime, making it easier to wash food away from teeth. The mealtime drink also helps to wash away food particles on teeth, so choose one that is not sugary.
  • Get your children in 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 immediately afterwards, provides constant fuel for the 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. Brush teeth immediately after eating the snack if possible.
  • Avoid sugary foods that linger on the teeth. Boiled 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 a fizzy drink.
  • Offer your child plain water instead of juice or a fizzy drink. Juices, fizzy drinks and even milk contain sugar. Water does not harm the teeth and aids in washing away any food particles that may be clinging to the teeth.
  • Include good sources of calcium in your child's diet to build strong teeth. Good sources include milk, spinach and yoghurt.
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