Promoting Good Childhood Oral Health
From birth through adulthood, the human mouth goes through constant change. The 20 primary teeth erupt one by one, then fall out to make way for the 32 adult teeth. In addition to regular brushing, flossing and visits to your friendly local pediatric dentistry clinic, the things your child eats and drinks make a huge difference in their oral health — which affects their overall health as well.
For the smallest children, who receive the majority of their nutrition through a nipple, it is important to limit their sugar intake. This means no juice, soft drinks or sugar water! Baby bottles should be filled only with breast milk, dairy milk or formula. Do not put babies to bed with their bottles; make sure they finish all they want before putting them down. Administer clean pacifiers only — do not dip or coat them with anything to make them taste better. And by age one, children should be starting to drink from cups. Limit extended use of sippy cups, too. Anything that stays in your baby’s mouth too long puts him or her at increased risk of tooth decay and gum issues.
Good Food for Healthy Smiles
Half of all the food your child eats every day should be some form of fruit and/or vegetable. Whole grains are a part of a healthy diet, too, but try to limit more processed grains; steel cut oatmeal, whole wheat bread and wild/brown rice are better options than instant (especially sweetened) cereals, white bread and quick-cooking rice. Dairy products provide calcium, protein and vitamins such as A and D, but can introduce more fat into your child’s diet than is optimal; stick to reduced-fat varieties where possible. And lean protein is important too — balance fish, poultry, lean beef and pork cuts with non-meat protein sources such as eggs, beans and peas for optimal results.
Offer healthy, sugar-free snacks when your kids are hungry between meals. Fun and healthy treats such as “ants on a log” (celery filled with peanut butter and topped with raisins) provide a lot of nutrition with low risk of encouraging tooth decay, not to mention other sugar-related maladies including diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and even heart disease.
It is impossible to remove all sugar from your child’s diet, but you can employ some simple strategies to reduce its impact on your whole family’s dental health. Fruits with high water content, such as pears and melon, are filling and leave less latent sugar residue on teeth than softer fruits like bananas. Banish chewy and sticky snacks; granola bars, jelly beans, caramels, oatmeal cookies and other such foods stick to teeth, leaving them coated with sugar! Same goes for hard candies, cough drops and many popular sugared mints and gums. Sugar-free gum is OK for children who are old enough to be trusted not to swallow it.
If you do let your child have sweets, the best time to serve them is immediately after a meal, as dessert. Mealtime typically means more saliva in the mouth — the better to wash away sugars — and having a drink to clean the mouth afterward is helpful too. And don’t forget, your child can brush his or her teeth any time of day, not just morning and night. So if they are allowed to indulge in any particularly sticky, sweet treat at any time, it never hurts to have them brush their teeth right afterward.
Vitamins and Minerals
Along with calcium, optimal dental health requires a steady supply of iron, Vitamins A and D and fluoride. The vitamins and minerals can be found in any number of over-the-counter supplements at your local grocery store or pharmacy. Fluoride is present in many — but not all — municipal water systems; consult your pediatric dentist for advice on when and if your child should use fluoride toothpaste, oral rinse or in-office treatments.
By optimizing nutritional intake and minimizing exposure to sugars, your child will have a great advantage as he or she grows into a healthy, happy adult with a great set of teeth!