We know that as a parent or caregiver, you want your children to achieve bright and healthy smiles. One of the ways you can help them get those perfect smiles is by choosing healthy options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Healthy and nutritious meals play an important role not only in your children’s general health but also their energy and focus levels. However, it is not only what your children eat or drink that can affect their oral health, but how often they eat.
Your teeth while you eat
When you eat or drink, the environment in your mouth becomes acidic as part of your body’s natural digestion process. Bacteria that live in the mouth break down sugars and starches while you eat and drink and produce acid, lowering the pH levels of the mouth.
The acid can attack your teeth’s enamel causing the enamel to weaken and eventually lead to tooth decay and the formation of cavities. Though it may only take a few seconds for the mouth’s levels to become acidic, it takes at least 20 minutes for your pH levels to neutralize once you finish eating. This process occurs no matter the size of the meal, whether a single chip or a full Thanksgiving feast. It will even happen while drinking most beverages (except water).
What does that mean for snacking?
Recently, studies have shown that frequent snacking or grazing is a major source of tooth decay which may result in enamel erosion and cavities. This is because snacking continuously throughout the day means your mouth is mostly in an acidic environment. Though our saliva helps to neutralize the effects of the acid once we finish eating, snacking too often can overwhelm your teeth making it more likely for you to experience tooth decay and develop cavities.
Even if they are primary teeth, they play an important role in your children’s development by helping them chew and speak as well as shape their faces and act as placeholders for permanent teeth. Snacking smartly and practicing good oral hygiene habits will help your children protect their teeth.
Snack smartly by limiting how often children snack between meals and selecting healthy snack options. Foods high in sugar, sodium, unhealthy fats, and starches can contribute to the production of plaque and acid within the mouth that attack tooth enamel and over time can cause cavities and other dental health concerns. As a general rule, it is always best to opt for the whole foods route with fresh fruits, raw vegetables, whole grains, and limited processed food products.
Dairy products such as milk and cheeses are excellent sources of calcium which help to build strong and healthy teeth. Cheese is also high in phosphorus which works to keep your children’s enamel strong and works to remove plaque from the surface of their teeth.
Fruits that are high in fiber such as apples and pears are considered nature’s toothbrushes and help to clean your teeth as you chew. Bananas, grapes, kiwis, and other berries are other healthy substitutes for desserts and easy to prepare. Be mindful of certain fruits as they can be high in sugars. Limit citrus fruits as they are high in acids and can erode tooth enamel, lead to cavities, and can increase tooth sensitivity.
Crunchy raw vegetables such as carrots, celery, cucumbers, green peppers, broccoli, and leafy greens are some of the best snacks for oral health. They are high in water content which helps to dilute natural sugars and high in fiber. Just like with fibrous fruits, these snacks will help to scrape away bad bacteria and food debris from your children’s teeth.
Yogurt can be a great substitute for gelatin or pudding cups. Yogurt without added sugars is a great snack option and can be used as a base to which you can add your children’s favorite fruits or nuts. Yogurt also contains probiotics which can help get rid of bad bacteria in your children’s mouths.
Good oral hygiene practices
Regardless of the snack, always remember to have your children rinse their mouths after meals with water and wait at least 30 minutes before brushing as the acid can damage the teeth if brushed too soon. Have them brush twice a day for at least two minutes with a soft bristle brush in a circular motion along the teeth and gum line and floss at least once a day. For young children, parents or caregivers should help them brush and floss. As they age, you can allow them to do it themselves, but monitor or check afterward to make sure all the areas of their mouth are clean.
Children should come in every six months for routine examinations and professional cleanings so that we can monitor oral growth and development. For more information on how snacking can affect your children’s teeth or to schedule an appointment, please contact the Children’s Dentistry of San Diego today.