There’s more to dental health than brushing and flossing. What your child puts into his or her mouth will have a major impact on the health of their teeth and gums. Not only is it important to avoid certain foods that contribute to decay, but it’s also vital to fuel your body with the nutrients that support dental health, building strong teeth and arming the mouth against infections and disease.
Carbs and Cavities
Both tooth decay and gum disease are caused by bacteria in your mouth. When this bacteria interacts with carbs, it creates an acidic byproduct that damages the surface of your teeth, burning holes into the enamel.
We brush in order to reduce both the amount of harmful bacteria in the mouth, and the sugars left over from the foods that we eat. However, since children seldom brush perfectly after every snack, it’s important for parents to be vigilant and monitor what kind of foods children eat. Remember: it’s not just candy that feeds these bacteria! Even non-sweet carbs like crackers or potato chips can cause damage to your child’s smile.
Important Nutrients for a Healthy Smile
- Calcium: Calcium is one of the most important nutrients for your healthy teeth. Your teeth and jaw are primarily made of calcium, and even when they’re fully developed, you need to support their ongoing health with calcium to keep them strong. Find calcium in all dairy products, as well as leafy greens, oranges, and almonds.
- Iron: Iron helps circulate oxygen throughout your body. When your body is low on iron, it can cause bacteria buildup, sores and inflammation in the tissues of the mouth. Leafy greens, red meat, seafood, and beans are all great sources of iron.
- Vitamin C: This vitamin is important for healthy gums. It helps your body counteract infection and inflammation. Get your Vitamin C needs from citrus fruits and leafy greens.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, which is why many supplements will pair Vitamin D and calcium. It’s also why lots of dairy products are fortified with Vitamin D. However, you can get most of your Vitamin D needs from sunshine. It only takes about 10 minutes a day to get what you need!
Take-Home Tips for a Tooth-Healthy Diet
- Always choose water over sugary drinks (including fruit drinks.)
- Choose dairy when children are young. It’s free of tooth-attacking carbs, and dairy is rich in calcium. If your child is lactose tolerant, look for alternative sources of calcium like leafy greens and oranges.
- Have healthy snacks on hand. Veggie sticks, string cheese, and apple slices are all great between-meal snacks for kids that will support good tooth health.
- Look for hidden sugars in your food’s labels. There are significant amounts of sugar in yogurt, granola bars, cereal, and sauces.
- Be wary of snacking on sugary foods, crackers, and dried fruits.
- Brush right after eating sugars. If there’s no toothbrush handy, drinking water or chewing gum or even finishing up the snack with a fresh vegetable can help to clean out your mouth.