Disclosure :: this post is sponsored by Children’s Hospital New Orleans.
Nutrition’s Role in Oral Health
Not many people realize that the process by which people get cavities is actually considered an infectious disease. It is caused by bacteria that spread typically from parent to child when the first teeth erupt through saliva contact. That means the bacteria spread by blowing on food to cool it off, sharing drinks, sharing spoons, kisses on the lips, “cleaning” a pacifier in a parent’s mouth and giving to the baby, etc. Once the bacteria are there, we can never fully get rid of them. The good news is that cavities are almost completely preventable. That is where nutrition and establishing healthy habits come into play.
The bacteria that cause cavities use fermentable carbohydrates (sugars) for their energy and make two things: a substance to make themselves sticky to build up as plaque, and lactic acid. The more frequently the bacteria are able to make that acid, the more minerals are drawn out of teeth. These bacteria also thrive in an acidic environment. Every time we eat and drink something other than water, the pH in our mouth drops. Our bodies need time to bring that acid level back to neutral. If we can keep food intake to no more frequently than every 2-3 hours, we can give our mouths time to flush away all of the acids.
Unfortunately, there are sugars found in a lot of common “kids’ foods” that we do not realize are able to cause cavities. It is not just candies! Foods such as crackers, chips, snack-bars, cookies, and gummies (yes, even vitamin gummies) can contribute to cavity formation. Similarly, anything other than plain water can cause cavities – juices, sports drinks, Pediasure, milk, and sodas are some common causes. If kids are going to have anything with sugar, we want to keep it at mealtimes. That means it is okay for kids to have an occasional juice or chocolate candy at mealtime. It is best to teach kids when it is appropriate to have such things rather than hide it or completely banish it so they can learn when it is appropriate.
Now that we have discussed how people get cavities, here are five tricks for keeping kids’ teeth healthy.
Enjoy protein-based snacks:
For snack-times, it is recommended to have more protein-based snacks like cheese, yogurt, nuts, eggs, beans/hummus. Eating more proteins between meals will help sustain kids’ blood sugar levels longer, so they will not feel the need to snack more frequently. This will also help prevent problems like childhood obesity and Type II Diabetes Mellitus.
Eat more dark red- and blue-skinned fruits:
It is much better for kids to eat fresh fruit rather than drinking juices. Although all fruits have sugars, the dark red- and blue-skinned fruits are the best. Some examples are apples, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, and raspberries. The only exception is grapes, but we would much rather kids eat fresh fruit over drinking juice. They have flavonoids, which are antioxidants and help prevent cavities. All that being said, try to keep fruits with meals. Incorporating proteins like nut butter on fruits is yummy, fun, and will again help extend blood-sugar levels.
Vegetables are great!
Eating raw vegetables helps keep teeth clean. By chewing on rougher substances like carrots, broccoli, and celery, we are able to help keep teeth clean. The roughage helps mechanically debride plaque from teeth.
Drink more water:
Not all waters are the same. It is recommended that we drink a water that is neutral and one that has an optimal amount of fluoride in it (0.7-1.0ppm). Some bottled waters are very acidic, and any acid with a pH of less than 5.5 will draw minerals out of the teeth. Some bottled waters can have pH’s as low as 4.7 and do not have fluoride to help re-mineralize teeth. Also, most bottled waters use reverse osmosis for purification. This can remove up to 90% of fluoride from the water. Charcoal filters like the ones found in refrigerators and Brita water filters will only remove about 10% of fluoride from the drinking water. Be careful with flavored waters and sparkling waters as they also have lots of acids. If you prefer bottled waters, try to find ones that have neutral pH and fluoride (some easy to find ones in our stores are Nursery Water or Kentwood Springs Artesian Water with Fluoride). The easiest way to keep teeth clean and plaque-free is by drinking fluoridated water. The more frequently we sip on water with fluoride, the more often the teeth are able to absorb the fluoride, thus keeping them stronger for longer.
Stay on top of cleanings and check-ups.
Lastly, remember to take your child for regular cleanings and check-ups. Pediatric dentists monitor growth and development, not just cavities. Your child’s dentist should be able to work with you to help you find ways to incorporate recommendations into your busy lives.
About Dr. Suzanne Fournier
Dr. Suzanne Fournier is a pediatric dentist with Children’s Hospital New Orleans. She attended medical school at the University of Michigan and completed her residency at the University of Florida. Dr. Fournier is board certified by the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry. She sees patients from the dental clinic at Children’s Hospital’s main campus in uptown New Orleans. The clinic provides preventive and therapeutic oral heal services for infants, children, and adolescents up to the age of 21. Learn more at chnola.org or by calling 504.896.2052.