When it comes to your child’s dental health, diet matters. In fact, diet may be one of the most critical and influential ingredients in the overall health, growth, and development of a child’s mouth and teeth. Yes, daily brushing and flossing are essential.
Regular visits to a pediatric dentist for checkups is essential too. Diet, however, is a good deal more involved and can require lifestyle changes that aren’t as easy to check off as merely brushing twice a day.
Why Your Child’s Diet Matters
Diet and nutrition affect far more than just your child’s teeth. Like adults, all children need a specific amount of a wide range of micronutrients and macronutrients to live healthy lives. Unlike adults, however, children also require an adequate and balanced nutritional intake to grow and develop, physically, mentally, and socially, into healthy adults. Children who do not receive adequate dietary consumption or have a grossly imbalanced nutritional intake risk a wide range of adverse health effects that can permanently damage or debilitate their development.
Without proper initial nutrition, children can deal with physical and mental deficits for the rest of their lives. Infants are especially sensitive to micronutrient deficiency up to two years of age during which they are in a period of intense physical and cognitive growth. Once a young child has suffered a setback from undernutrition or malnutrition, there is often no way to catch up later. This is particularly true for a child’s dental development. Bad diet equals bad teeth and poor oral health, sometimes for life.
How Food Interacts With Children’s Teeth
There are several ways, both directly and indirectly, in which what your child consumes affects his or her teeth. Most broadly, eating a balanced diet heavy in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats and processed sugars are considered by the vast majority of nutritionists, dentists, and pediatric doctors to be the best way to ensure healthy teeth through diet. While it may seem like common sense that consuming a balanced and nutritious diet is the right way to support healthy teeth, 85 percent of Americans lack essential vitamins. Half of all children lack vitamins D and E. More than a quarter do not get enough calcium, magnesium or vitamin A. What does that mean for the teeth of many American children?
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in dental health. While many consider calcium to be the most vital nutrient for the long-term strength of their pearly whites, without vitamin D, your body can’t even absorb calcium. Therein lies its great importance for children. For children to develop healthy and strong bones, and as a result healthy and strong teeth, they need to get enough vitamin D.
Vitamin E meanwhile plays an essential role in managing inflammation of the gums. It is an antioxidant that reduces the inflammation associated with periodontal disease and gingivitis. For children, Vitamin E boosts the immune system and helps their bodies fight germs. Likewise, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin A all play their own individual roles in promoting good health and good dental health. These are but a handful of the numerous micronutrients and macronutrients a child needs to not only develop healthy teeth but also live a healthy life.
Diet and the food we choose to consume can also have some direct effects on our oral and dental health. Food and drinks can chemically and physically affect the protective enamel of a child’s teeth as well as the soft tissues of the gums. Hard, crunchy foods such as chips and bread crusts, for example, can physically abrade the teeth or even crack, fracture, and break teeth. Acidic drinks such as citrus-based beverages, sodas, and coffee chemically erode and remineralize teeth weakening them. While sugary treats and simple carbohydrates serve as rocket fuel for acid-spewing bacteria.
Encourage Healthy Eating
Children can be notoriously picky eaters. As a vigilant and caring parent concerned about your child’s dental health it is essential to encourage them to make the right decisions about what to eat and what to avoid.
As a general rule, children should be taught to avoid refined sugars and simple carbohydrates. Fruit juices, mainly citrus drinks, should also be limited. Very young children and infants who require bottle feeding should never be allowed to fall asleep or nap with a bottle in their mouths. Common liquids and drinks such as juices, formula, or even breast milk contain sugars that feed and fuel decay-causing bacteria. When left in a sleeping child’s mouth, these sugar-containing liquids become a bacterial soup that pools and collects around their teeth. Also, natural saliva production often decreases while a child sleeps. Saliva contains many anti-microbial properties and is critical for a healthy mouth. Reduced saliva and an influx of sugary liquids is a recipe for dental disaster.
5 Foods All Kids Should Be Taught to Avoid
Any liquid that contains large quantities of sugar is going to be a disaster for a child's teeth. While that always includes common junk drinks such as sodas, other sugary beverages are also suspect.
Juices, for instance, are often perceived as being a healthy alternative to soda. Unfortunately, juices can usually pack just as much or more sugar and have the added disadvantage of being highly acidic. Other beverages to be aware of include dairy products which include lactose, a type of sugar, and coffees and teas which are acidic and contain teeth-staining tannins.
Chips are terrible for children’s teeth yet widely consumed. Their sharp edges and crunchiness not only scrape and abrade teeth and gums, but they also have a habit of getting stuck on and around a child’s teeth. The longer they stay in contact with teeth, the longer they can fuel enamel-destroying bacteria. Furthermore, many chips such as potato chips are simple starches that are almost immediately converted into bacteria-fueling sugars.
Chewy candy not only has no nutritional value, but it also stays in contact with teeth for a long time. Avoid chewy candy if at all possible.
Hard candies, which are often found in lozenges or drop form, should also be avoided. Hard candies are particularly pernicious because they usually stay in a child’s mouth for an extended period of time allowing bacteria to grow and flourish.
Dried fruits are often mistaken as a healthy alternative to candy. While they contain some nutritional value, they are still a bad choice for healthy teeth. Like candy, dried fruits are often loaded with added sugars. Furthermore, their chewiness means dried fruit often gets stuck in the teeth and remain in contact with dental enamel for an extended period of time.
5 Foods All Kids Should Be Taught to Eat
Fibrous Roots and Vegetables
When it comes to a child’s dental health, fibrous vegetables are one of the best foods a child can eat. Not only are they nutritionally dense and filled with useful vitamins and nutrients, but they also help physically scrape plaque off of teeth and stimulate the gums. Fibrous roots and vegetables also contain little or no sugar making them useless as bacteria fuel while nutritionally packed.
Leafy, Cruciferous Vegetables
Leafy, cruciferous vegetables, such as kale, collard greens, broccoli, and bok choy, contain a cornucopia of useful vitamins and minerals directly helpful for healthy teeth. Spinach, arugula and other leafy and cruciferous greens also contain surprisingly high amounts of calcium, as well as vitamin A, vitamin K, fiber, potassium. All these nutrients directly promote dental health.
While fruits contain natural sugars, they are also loaded with nutrients and fibrous materials. Vitamin C, for instance, plays an essential role in the growth, maintenance and repair of a child’s vital body tissues. This includes their bones, cartilage, and teeth.
While fruit juices can undoubtedly cause dental health issues, a serving of whole fruit is a good snack alternative compared to sugary sweets, soda, and even juice. Be aware that fresh whole fruit and dried fruits are not to be confused. The latter can often be no healthier or better for teeth than candy. Meanwhile, the former can reinforce and promote dental health and body.
Your body requires lots of calcium to help maintain adequate bone density. Look for dairy product enriched with vitamin D which helps with calcium absorption into the body and plays a critical role in the health of your body in its own right.
Lean meats are rich in phosphorus, which after calcium, is the second most abundant mineral in the human body. Phosphorus is directly embedded in your teeth and bones.
Come to Willow Pass Dental Care to Learn More About Diet and Dental Health!
Willow Pass Dental Care is regarded as the leading dentist in Concord, CA. We are dedicated to providing the best pediatric dental care for both children and adults. That often entails addressing the intersection of diet and dental health. Dr. Reza Khazaie will be able to identify any worrying signs of dental malaise best before it gets out of hand, address any pressing dental concerns, and provide you with the care and advice you and your child needs to build healthy dental habits.
Looking for a friendly and professional dental office to call home? Look no further than Willow Pass Dental Care! Call us at 925-326-6114 to schedule an appointment or complete the online schedule form below.