If it were up to kids, parents would see cake, candy, and cola constantly on the menu. While most people know that too much soda and sugar is bad for enamel and causes cavities, there are a host of other foods that seem healthy but can inflict damage as well. Here’s a look at what’s behind these bad foods, as well as a list of things your children should avoid to keep their smiles healthy for life!
At Kids Dental Center, we know what it’s like to have a sweet tooth. Children and parents may find it challenging to find an appropriate diet that is both safe for their bodies and their teeth. To get a head start on your children's oral health, call our Chandler, AZ pediatric dental office to schedule an appointment. Our expert team has all of the information you need for a firm grip on healthy eating.
Cavities, also called tooth decay, are permanent damage to the enamel and basic structure of teeth. While there are a lot of factors that contribute to their formation, cavities mainly develop thanks to consuming sugary foods, bacteria growth and improper oral hygiene. Enamel is essentially eaten away, leaving a fissure that begins to rot. The damage can get worse if left untreated, and may even result in pain and tooth loss.
Small cavities can go undetected, especially when they hide between teeth or at the gum line. As they worsen the signs can be hard to ignore. These include:
- Discoloration such as white or dark staining
- Visible holes in teeth
- Increased sensitivity
- Aching pain
- Fragile teeth
Even baby teeth can get cavities. It may seem a waste to treat them since they fall out eventually, but the offending bacteria can spread and the decay might damage underlying adult teeth as well. Frequent dentist visits and x-rays can help to identify problem areas before they become too large.
A Diet for Tooth Decay
Store shelves are lined with snacks that just aren’t the best idea for your children's dental health. Doctors and dentists suggest shying away from packaged foods loaded with sugars, carbs and preservatives. Even so, there are a host of foods that seem outwardly healthy or benign that may still cause cavity-creating bacteria and plaque to form. Here are some of the decidedly bad foods for your teeth that parents should limit their kids’ access to.
- Gummy and Chewy Candies: When sugar comes in contact with the enamel, the decay process begins almost immediately. Prolonging that contact will go a long way to help bacteria and plaque linger. Sticky candies cement sugar to teeth, hastening tooth decay. Sour gummies are the worst culprits since they are coated with sugar to begin with!
- Crackers and Chips: It’s not just sugar that’s bad news. Chips and crackers are loaded with carbohydrates. These turn into sugar thanks to enzymes in saliva, and like gummies, they can stick to teeth for extended periods. Definitely consider brushing after chowing down on your favorite chips.
- Soda and Dark Colas: With corn syrup as one of the predominant ingredients, sodas are something to be avoided if possible. Because they’re liquid, sodas can get in between teeth in ways that other foods can’t.
- Sports/Energy Drinks: It may seem counterintuitive, but thirst quenchers are not health supplements. Sugar is the source for the energy in these drinks, and the acidity will eat away at enamel if parents and kids aren’t careful. While electrolytes may be helpful, tooth decay definitely isn’t!
- Ice: Chewing on ice chips is a great way to cool down on a hot day, but it doesn’t do great things for your teeth. The density of ice makes it tough on your teeth, leading to cracks or fractures if kids aren’t careful. Once teeth become chipped, they are a haven for plaque and bacteria growth.
- Pickled Foods: Pickling is one of the most common food preservation methods. Studies have also shown that dishes such as kimchi are good for your overall physical health. However, these foods are preserved in vinegar which is very acidic, making it dangerous for enamel. They also have a lot of added sugar to taper down bitterness, making them extra harmful to teeth!
- Dried Fruits: What could be more healthy than grabbing a handful of raisins? While dried fruits are an excellent source of vitamins, there are significant drawbacks to choosing these snacks on a regular basis. Fruits have a lot of natural sugars, and when dried their sweetness comes to the forefront. They are also pretty sticky, meaning they can be just as dangerous as some gummy candy if kids and parents aren’t careful.
- Black Tea: While tea may be an appropriate alternative to coffee, especially for growing children, there are some side effects to oral hygiene. Because of its high concentration of tannin, teas can stain teeth very easily. Those who add lemon and sugar aren’t doing their pearly whites any favors either!
- Popcorn: Basting popped kernels in salt and butter is a mouth-watering prospect, but popcorn can still be a problem to young mouths. Parts of the casing may easily become lodged in the gum line or between teeth. Children may have a difficult time letting their parents know what’s causing discomfort, too.
- Citrus: Vitamin C is great for staving off scurvy, but oranges and lemonade can do more than fight off the common cold. The acids contained in some fruits, vegetables, and melons are just the thing to strip away the enamel from teeth. If your kids are reaching for oranges more than cookies, temper congratulations with an urge to brush more frequently.
Many parents remember what it’s like to need braces in their youth, along with the many dietary restrictions that go with it. Halloween has been the bane of many ortho patients since it severely limits the kinds of candy that kids can eat. There are a wealth of other foods that can pose additional problems for those with orthodontic-assisted smiles other than the gummies and caramels popular during the season.
Because braces cover teeth, they make perfect spots for food particles to cling to. Snacks like chewy candy, crackers, and chips can get caught around the wire and fixtures, making it difficult to brush properly and remove plaque and tartar buildup. Extended contact with teeth will leave them susceptible to decay, and the damage may remain hidden until the braces are finally removed.
Another issue comes from eating very crunchy foods like popcorn, ice, and some cold vegetables. The harshess of these edibles has a tendency to cause physical damage to the metal as well, including getting caught between teeth or breaking wires. These issues can lead to a surprise trip to the Ortho office, which any parent or child will want to avoid.
Oral Health Alternatives
While some foods don’t play well with dentition, there are a variety of other options that are healthy for both your children's bodies and teeth. These foods won’t considerably contribute to tooth decay and also have enamel-aiding properties too. Try adding some of these tips and alternatives to your child’s diet.
- Cheese makes a great snack, especially aged varieties such as cheddar, swiss, and Monterey jack. These help to increase saliva flow, rinsing teeth as you eat. All of that extra calcium doesn't hurt bone growth and tooth-strengthening, either.
- Promote drinking water over other beverages. Not only is it refreshing, it cleans teeth and doesn’t carry all of the harmful additives that more popular choices include.
- Serve sweets as deserts instead of snacks. Kids will be more full after eating dinner, reducing their junk food intake. Additionally, mouths are already in “consumption mode,” meaning more saliva to help clean teeth.
- Reduce snacking throughout the day. Between meals are the perfect times for your mouth to clean itself. Constantly snacking without brushing in between leads to plaque buildup, giving bacteria a foothold to do its tooth-rotting worst. Try to promote specific snack times, limited to about two per day with brushing afterward if possible.
- Raw, room-temperature veggies are excellent tooth cleaners. Their stringent fibers are great for scrubbing teeth as you chew. While not an alternative to brushing, it does help take the edge off of snack time. Try serving carrots, celery, broccoli, and cauliflower instead of their sugary and salty substitutes.
Choosing the right foods to give to your children can be a tough decision, especially when healthy options like citrus fruits can prove harmful. In reality, there is little harm to letting kids snack on unhealthy picks, as long as it is in moderation. We at Kids Dental Center understand the challenges of maintaining a well-balanced dental diet. Contact our offices today to make a cleaning appointment for your child and our team will let you know the best ways to keep your kids’ smiles lasting a long while!