Diet and Snacking

What a child eats plays a major role in their dental development. Not only do nutrients from foods influence the growth of their bones and tissues, but certain foods can also put children at risk for developing cavities. Providing a child with nutritious food and establishing healthy snacking habits can help foster good oral health in babies, children, and teens.

The Importance of a Balanced Diet

For children's growing bodies, a balanced diet is critical for their entire wellbeing. And for the proper development of healthy teeth and gums, the American Academy of Dental Pediatrics recommends a diet including fruits, vegetables, meat and beans, milk, and grains, with limitations on the amount of sugars and starches in a child's diet. When sugars from foods collect on teeth, it creates an environment where bacteria can thrive. These bacteria produce acids that cause tooth decay and cavities. Therefore, it's important to consider the makeup of a child's diet and how it may be affecting their oral health.

Diet and Oral Health

Before a baby transitions to solid food, they are at risk for what is known as "baby bottle tooth decay." These early childhood cavities commonly arise from putting a baby to bed with a bottle of milk or formula, or feeding just before bedtime or naps. This allows sugars from the milk to collect on the infant's teeth. And while toddlers love sweet foods and juices, these can also cause dental decay. Giving a toddler a sippy cup of juice throughout the day, for example, bathes their teeth in sugar for hours at a time.

Children and teens often seek out snack foods that are high in starch, or sugary beverages like soda. A significant culprit for cavity growth is sports drinks. These are sometimes considered healthy by parents, and can be overlooked in dietary assessments. But these drinks often contain just as much, if not more, sugar than soda and should be replaced with water in childhood sporting activities.

Better Snacks and Better Habits

Assessing your child's diet for too many foods that are high in sugar or starch is a great first step towards providing healthier alternatives. Saving processed snacks for special occasions, and instead offering children low-sugar snacks like plain yogurt or vegetables on a regular basis, can protect their teeth and overall well-being. Some healthy foods, like fruits, contain a lot of sugar. Brushing twice a day, regularly visiting a pediatric dentist, and reviewing preventative treatments such as sealants can minimize the risk from these foods.

Besides healthy snacks, there are other supplements that can support dental growth. Chewing Xylitol gum, for example, has been demonstrated to reduce cavities in children or teens. However, it should never be given to babies or toddlers as it poses a choking hazard. Another supplement, which may be appropriate for all children, is fluoride. Fluoride combats the destructive acid that leads to cavities. Fluoride can be found in toothpaste, treated water, and other supplements. It's important to note that eating a balanced diet alone may not provide a child with a sufficient amount of fluoride. A pediatric dentist can assess for proper fluoride levels, and recommend treatment accordingly.

Providing balanced nutrition for your child, as well as assessing their diet for foods high in sugar and starch, can support great oral health and overall well-being. Working with a pediatric dentist can help determine if a child has a healthy diet that's good for their teeth, as well as offer preventative treatments and supplements that