It’s already March and the children are back in school. If you’re like me and are constantly looking for ideas of healthy foods to pack in the lunch box or for after school snacks, then read on.
As a dentist, I’m well aware of the damage that sugar and other carbohydrates can inflict on developing teeth (and kid’s bodies in general). Teeth decay when certain bacteria break down sugars and other carbohydrates from the foods we eat into acid. This acid dissolves the minerals in the outermost layer of teeth which is enamel. Slowly, holes (caries) begin to form in the teeth and will get larger over time if left untreated.
As a mother, I try hard to limit the amount of sugar that my children consume. Sometimes though, life gets so busy that it is very tempting to resort to the multitude of packaged snacks out there. However, these may contain a high amount of sodium, sugar and other carbohydrates.
Luckily, it’s quite simple to give children healthy, delicious snacks that can help to keep their teeth healthy. We’ve got some suggestions for foods that promote healthy teeth, as well as those to try and minimise.
Snacks that are good for teeth:
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Apples are high in fibre which promotes fullness as well as helping to clean teeth as they are eaten. The fibrous texture, and particularly the skin, can clean off plaque and the scrub gums and tongue. They can also help to remove surface stains from teeth. Pop an apple in your child’s lunch box or cut it into slices (but leave the skin on). Make ‘apple donuts’ by coring and slicing and apple and top it with fresh strawberries and cream, or alternatively peanut butter and a small number of raisins (raisins are dried fruit and contain a high amount of sugar – see below).
- Carrot sticks, celery sticks and cucumber sticks are also great snack options that offer similar benefits to apples. These pair great with some tzatziki dip or spreadable cheese to dip in and add extra flavour.
- Kiwi Fruit, Apricots, Oranges, Pineapples, Lychees, Papayas and Berries are all packed with calcium. Amongst other health benefits, these fruit help maintain a high level of calcium in the body, which is needed for healthy teeth enamel. Fruit skewers are a fun idea to include a tasty variety of fresh fruit in lunchboxes.
- Nuts are rich in protein and minerals, and chewing on them helps promote saliva production. Saliva helps to protect the teeth from acid attack that causes decay. For an even healthier option, give them unsalted nuts.
Note: Please be aware that most childcare centres, kindergartens and schools are strictly nut free due to the prevalence and seriousness of nut allergies. It’s important to have consideration for the health of all children, so stay away from packing nuts or products which contain nuts into lunchboxes.
- Milk, yogurt and cheese are high in calcium and protein.
- Milk and cheese contain casein which is a protein that helps strengthen tooth enamel and fight decay. Cheese sticks and ‘stringy’ cheese are great for kids.
- Yogurt is rich in calcium which also aids in strengthening enamel. Be aware though that some flavoured yoghurts contain high levels of sugar. Read the labels and make an informed decision. If in doubt, opt for natural (or Greek) yoghurt and flavour it yourself with fresh berries or a small amount of honey or fruit squeezy.
As well as packaged snacks, try to minimise consumption of the following foods.
Snacks that are not good for teeth and consumption should be minimised:
- Fruit juice is missing a lot of things that make whole fruit healthy. It contains little-to-none of the fibre and bulk of fresh fruit, but all the sugar.
- When we eat fresh fruit, it takes significant effort to chew and swallow, encouraging production of saliva and helping to clean the teeth while doing so.
- Due to the fibre and bulk contained in fresh fruit, it is very filling and difficult to eat a lot of.
- Unlike fresh fruit, fruit juice can be consumed quickly and in large volumes.
- As well as having a high sugar content, some fruit juices (including cranberry and orange) can be very acidic. This acid can weaken tooth enamel and render teeth more prone to decay.
- Sugary soft drinks share the same downsides as fruit juices – high sugar and acid content – but without any nutritional benefits whatsoever.
- Dried fruit has most of the water in fresh fruit removed, and consequently a much higher concentration of sugar. The water content of fresh fruit helps to keep kids hydrated as well as feeling full.
- Dried fruit can also stick to teeth long after snacking has stopped. This can cause prolonged acid attack on the enamel which can assist in the formation of decay.
- When is comes to fruit, fresh fruit is always the best choice.
Sweets, Lollies, Chocolates
- Apart from the obviously containing a relatively large amount of sugar, sweets can stick to teeth and linger, resulting in prolonged acid exposure like when eating dried fruit.
Notes about snacking:
- The frequency with which we consume snacks impacts on the rate of tooth decay. Every time we eat, the acidity level in our mouths rises due to the breakdown of sugars and carbohydrates into acids.
- Frequent snacking (no matter how healthy) will cause a more frequent acidic environment within the mouth and therefore increase the likelihood of tooth decay occurring.
- Therefore, it’s better if children consume all their snacks in one hit, rather than spread out over time. Snacks which result in a feeling of fullness will extend the time until children again feel hungry.
- Don’t feel bad about your children having the occasional sweet or less-than-healthy treat, but try to keep them in moderation and ensure they are balanced out by more health conscious choices.
- Healthy snacking habits will help to minimise, but not prevent tooth decay. There is no substitute for good dental hygiene!
- As soon as your baby’s first teeth arrive you can begin by wiping them with a soft wet cloth or brushing with a small, soft, wet toothbrush. This should ideally be done twice a day. It not only keeps your baby’s teeth clean – it also gets them used to practising routine oral hygiene.
- Once your child can spit reliably, you can start using a small amount of low fluoride toothpaste on the wet brush.
- Assist or supervise your child’s brushing up until the age where they can reliably do a good job themselves (typically around 7 or 8 years old).
- And don’t forget to bring your children to the dentist on a regular basis for a check up and to show them that the dentist is not something to be frightened of. At Goodwood Dental, we offer free check-ups for children all the way up to the age of 17. Call us on 08 8373 3951 if you’d like to discuss any aspect of your children’s dental needs or book an appointment online today!