You may often find yourself giving your child snacks to tie him over before dinner or as a special treat in his lunch box. But can snacking promote tooth decay? Which foods are teeth-friendly and which ones should you avoid the next time your child craves a little snack?
Bacteria live in our mouths. When we feast, so do bacteria. Bacteria particularly enjoy breaking down sugars and starches, which leads to the formation of plaque and acid. Acid created by bacteria can damage the teeth if left on the tooth surface for 20 minutes or more. This can lead to tooth decay.
When selecting snacks for your child, read the ingredient label to find out if the snack contains sugars or starches (eg, white flour). Select snacks that are sugar-free or unsweetened. Some sugary snacks and drinks to avoid include:
- Soda and juices
If you do decide to give your child a sugary treat, do so at mealtime rather than as a snack. For instance, after dinner you can serve your child a dessert. More saliva is usually generated around mealtime, which makes it easier for food to be washed away from tooth surfaces.
Sugary foods may be obvious tooth decay culprits. But sticky, chewy snacks can also lead to tooth decay. Foods like granola bars, raisins, oatmeal, and peanut butter tend to linger on the teeth longer and are not easily washed away by saliva. This does not mean that you should avoid giving your child these foods. Your child can enjoy these healthy snack options, but just be sure he brushes his teeth immediately after eating any sticky or chewy foods.
Here are some snack options for your child that are both teeth-friendly and healthy:
Give your child fruits and vegetables that have high water content, like:
- Melons (eg, watermelon)
Limit those that are high in concentrated sugars. (Yes, fruits and vegetables do contain natural sugars.) Some fruits to limit include bananas and raisins. It is okay to give your child these, but again, be sure that he brushes his teeth immediately after eating.
Cheese is a good snack option since it triggers the flow of saliva. Aged cheeses are especially good choices, like:
- Monterey Jack
Soda, juice, and milk contain sugar. While milk is important for a growing child, juice and soda can be replaced with water. Water will not harm teeth and will help rinse away food particles. Fluoridated water is also ideal for preventing tooth decay (check the label on bottled water to see if it contains fluoride). For young children, plain water at bedtime is a good choice instead of formula, milk, or juice, which can damage tiny teeth overnight.
- Limit snacking. Snacking between meals limits the amount of time saliva has to wash away food. This means more food remains in the mouth for bacteria to process. If possible, limit snack time to no more than one or two times a day.
- Brush teeth. Have your child brush his teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day. Your child should also brush after every snack and after taking medicine (since some medicines contain sugar). It is also a good idea to floss at least once a day. If brushing or flossing is not possible, have your child rinse with water after snacking to wash away food particles.
- Build strong teeth. Give your child foods that will build strong teeth, like broccoli, plain yogurt, and milk.
- See the dentist. Schedule regular dental check-ups for your child.
Diet and oral health. American Dental Association website. Available at: . Accessed August 3, 2011.
Diet and tooth decay. JADA. 2002;133:527.
Nutrition and dental health. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: . Accessed August 3, 2011.
Smart snacking: treats can be treacherous. Oral Health Kansas website. Available at: . Accessed August 3, 2011.
Last reviewed August 2011 by Laura Morris-Olson, DMD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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