Regular teeth brushing is the first step towards good oral health in children (you can read more about how best to brush your little one’s teeth here). Making healthy dietary choices for your child is also important, so we grilled Dr. Amanda Wong from Orange Orthodontics to get her advice on how diet can affect our children’s teeth and what we can do about it. We even spoke to her about the role of fruit juices and fresh fruit in keep our kids’ mouths healthy!
As a dentist, it’s not uncommon for me to see children with dental issues, particularly cavities. Many parents are often surprised when they hear that their child has holes in their teeth and the first question is usually “how did this happen?” This is usually followed with “but we brush twice a day” and “they don’t eat many sweets!” Most of these problems however can be minimized with some minor dietary changes, and even a bit of water!
Fruit is tasty, full of vitamins and a very important part of your child’s diet – definitely make sure your kids eat enough! However, too much fruit (don’t forget that fruit comes in many different forms, such as fresh, juiced, dried, or canned) can contribute to problems such as cavities and erosion, especially if your child is grazing on fruit all day.
Fresh fruit has lots of natural sugar and some like oranges, berries and apples are quite acidic. Bits of fruit can get stuck in between the teeth and if your kids are snacking on them all the time, it’s a constant source of sugar in the mouth.
Juices are high in sugar and are very acidic. The main problem with juice is that kids often sip them slowly throughout the day. This means there is a constant source of sugar and acid in your child’s mouth. The acidity from the juice can contribute to tooth erosion and the constant supply of sugar can contribute to cavities.
Dried fruit such as raisins, dried cranberries, mangoes and apples are also very high in sugar (the removal of water through the drying process makes them a more concentrated sugar source than their fresh fruit counterparts). They are also very sticky and can get caught in the teeth. This means sugar is sitting on the teeth for many hours giving bacteria the chance to have a feast (not a nice thought!). New studies have shown that some dried fruit such as raisins (there are particular compounds found in raisins that may help prevent caries) and cranberries (they have high levels of calcium, which can help strengthen teeth) may have some dental benefits in helping prevent decay. However, once the fruit is stuck in the teeth the benefits may not be present anymore, but the sugar definitely will be!
Canned Fruits are also very high in sugar, particularly because the syrup the fruit is preserved in also has added sugar. If your child will only eat fruit this way, make sure they eat it all at once and that they drink water straight away afterwards.
Definitely do not limit or reduce your child’s fruit intake, but instead monitor it and don’t allow grazing.
Here are my top tips:
- Ask your child to sit at the table and finish their piece of fruit or dried fruit snack all at once. Allowing them to eat while running around can often lead to grazing – where your child might eat a bite of fruit, then other 10 minutes later, and another 10 minutes later… you get the drift!
- Floss out any bits of fruit stuck between their teeth.
- Juices are best drunk from a cup with a straw all at once. Again, ask your child to sit at the table to finish their juice. If your child is too young to use a cup, you can use a sippy cup but make sure they drink it all at once.
- No sipping juice throughout the day. Sippy cups with juice are not advised because your child is sipping on sugar and acid all day long. This can lead to a higher chance of cavities or erosion. Offer your child water in a sippy cup instead — it’s much better for your child to sip water throughout the day.
- Don’t brush your child’s teeth straight after drinking juice or eating acidic fruits as this can wear the teeth away more quickly. The natural acid in juice and some fruit can make the surface of the teeth temporarily soft, so are more susceptible to abrasion from tooth brushing. Wait until your child has rinsed their mouth with water before brushing their teeth.
- Lastly… WATER! Getting your child to drink water and even swishing the water around in their mouth after eating fruit or drinking juice is incredibly important. The water will help flush away the natural sugars and help neutralize the acids in the mouth.
Snacks such as biscuits and bread
These days there are a huge variety of snacks available to kids. Living in Singapore, we are fortunate enough to have access to food from around the world but it also opens up a world of tasty snacks for children. A lot of these snacks however, foods like biscuits and sweet bread snacks (trust me, I know just how easy it is when you’re out and about to stop and pick up cheese bread for the kids!) contain lots of added sugar and tend to get stuck in between children’s teeth (as a dentist, I’ve seen so many kids just after they’ve eaten chips or biscuits – it really gets stuck in the grooves of the teeth).
While we wouldn’t want to stop kids from enjoying food, it’s important to…
- Again, minimize their grazing on snacks. Don’t let your child keep popping snacks in their mouth throughout the day.
- Look at the ingredients. If there is a lot of added sugar and other additives, either choose an alternative snack or again limit their consumption.
- Get your child to drink plenty of water and even swish the water around in their mouth after eating.
- If possible, get your child to brush their teeth after snacking, especially if the snacks are very sticky.
Processed foods and regularly eating out
Most of us don’t have time to cook a gourmet meal for the family…. we lead busy lives and it’s often so much easier to go out for dinner or to cook the kids something frozen or pre-packed. However, these foods are often quite high in sugar and can contain lots of salt and preservatives; which along with the atmosphere of eating out, can encourage kids to crave sugary drinks like juice and soft drinks.
Again, it’s important too…
- Limit these foods as much as possible.
- Try to encourage your child to drink water instead of sugary drinks, and if they drink sweet drinks, to get them to have a drink of water afterwards.
- Choose healthier options for your kids where possible – try and include more vegetables and reduce sweet or salty sauces and processed foods.
Most of all do let your children enjoy their food, just remember to monitor their intake, get them to drink plenty of water and brush everyday!
Dr. Amanda Wong is as a general dentist at Orange Orthodontics. With a passion for working with children of all ages (and even adults!) Amanda is also a mama to a little girl. Originally from Adelaide, South Australia, Amanda has been enjoying life in Singapore for the past four and a half years. You can contact her at +65 6737 0544 or head to Orange Orthodontics website (she’s on there now!).