Even though visiting the dentist has gotten more user friendly, most kids still don’t look forward to their yearly dental checkups. As essential as these health checks are, what your child eats between visits is the most important part of building healthy teeth and gums.
In addition to brushing and flossing, the vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients in a healthful diet protect teeth from decay and keep gums healthy and tight.
The Main Culprit
We all know that sucrose or sugar is the leading cause of tooth decay, but not the only cause. Did you know that in addition to sugary foods like cookies, candies, and sodas, starchy foods (like bread and cereal) also play a part in tooth decay? When starches mix with an enzyme in the saliva called amylase, the result is an acid bath that breaks down enamel and makes teeth more susceptible to decay. The longer foods linger in the mouth, the acid bath is prolonged and the damage greater. That is why your mom always told you to brush your teeth after eating!
Dried fruit and juices are also problematic. While we usually think of these as healthy foods and beverages, both their high sugar content (think stickiness) and their high acid content make them contributors to tooth decay.
Unlike dried fruit and juices, fresh fruit protects your teeth. Fresh fruit, especially apples, are a good choice. Although sweet and acidic, the increased chewing required when eating fresh fruit (and vegetables) stimulates saliva flow. Saliva flow decreases mouth acidity and washes away food particles. Now you know why apples are called “nature’s toothbrush.” They not only stimulate the gums but also increase saliva flow and reduce the build-up of cavity-causing bacteria.
More teeth are lost through gum disease than decay. Poor diet, meaning a highly refined diet, alcoholism, and certain medications all contribute to poor gums. Poor hygiene and not flossing can lead to bleeding gums, but lack of Vitamin C can also be a cause. Fresh fruit and vegetables are your best source of Vitamin C.
Munching on hard fibrous foods such as carrots, celery, seeds and nuts, and whole grains all help stimulate the gums.
Healthy Snacks That Don’t Attack
Think fresh fruit and veggies, whole grains, beans and other lean protein, and healthy oils:
• Cut up veggies with hummus or avocado dip
• Cup of tea – Tea is good for your teeth because it contains fluoride. (If you are concerned about the pigments staining your teeth, you can drink it through a straw!)
• Fresh fruit with natural peanut butter
• Cabot fat reduced cheese with whole grain crackers and/or fresh fruit
• Plain yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts.
• Whole grain pretzels dipped in mustard
• Turkey slices wrapped around asparagus or roasted red pepper and avocado slices
• Hormone free turkey or buffalo jerky.
Remember you can also protect your teeth by ending meals with foods that do not promote cavities or may even protect them. Aged cheeses help prevent cavities if consumed at the end of a meal. Chewing sugar free gum stimulates the flow of saliva which decreases acid and flushes out food particles. Rinsing your mouth and brushing your teeth after eating are also good strategies to prevent cavities.
A bright smile is usually a good indication of a healthy diet.