As a pediatric dentist, wife, mother of a toddler (and a new baby on the way), I am keen to instill healthy oral habits in my family. Preventing dental decay is important, and a key factor that can cause decay is poor diet. A diet high in sugar and carbohydrates will contribute to developing cavities. There are simple tricks and substitutions you can make in your child’s diet to make it more teeth friendly. Here are some suggestions that I discuss with my patients’ families, too:
Instead of traditional pancakes with maple syrup, try oatmeal-banana pancakes. Swap your pancake flour for instant oats, and naturally sweeten them with crushed ripe banana in the batter, or any other fruit of choice. This way, you avoid the sugary syrup and you get the added benefit of fiber from the oatmeal. In addition:
• Pick cereals that don’t have more than 10 grams of sugar per serving.
• Opt for fresh-squeezed juices or plain milk as morning beverages versus juices from concentrate or flavored milk.
• With bread, try to pick whole-grain varieties versus plain white or refined flours.
A lot of parents confess that they don’t know what their child eats when she buys lunch at school, so keep track of what your child buys and look at school menus together at the beginning of the week, so you can make healthy decisions together!
If you are packing your child’s lunch:
• Avoid packing a sugary juice box, opt for water or plain milk.
• Instead of a sweet treat for dessert, make fruit the dessert inside the lunchbox.
• If your child has braces — and if she has time — brushing her teeth after lunch is a great idea to keep food from sticking in the teeth, wires, and brackets for the rest of the day.
Almonds and walnuts are a great idea for a snack, giving you the crunch of a potato chip without the fried content or carbohydrate excess. If allergies are an issue, try sunflower seeds or soy nuts. Almonds and walnuts are basic in their pH, which can neutralize acidity in the mouth. Acidity is a factor that allows bacteria to cause dental decay.
Avoid too much dried fruit, like raisins, dried cranberries, mangoes, etc. The dehydrating process releases more intrinsic sugar from the fruit. Combine that with the sticky quality, and it’s a recipe that can lead to cavities.
Instead, opt for fresh vegetables and fruits. Carrots, celery, and apples are great choices, and the nature of them can help cleanse the oral cavity. You can also add natural peanut butter (or SunButter if allergies are present) to them to make it a more appealing snack.
Cheese is also a great option because it has calcium, casein, and phosphorus, all of which have protective effects on your enamel. Another good dairy choice is plain yogurt or yogurt sweetened with only fresh fruit.
Avoid cookies, cakes, chocolate, and candy at snack time and keep them as once-in-a-while treats. That way, they stay just that — a treat, and not a regular part of your child’s diet.
These are just some suggestions, but I know it can be hard to shape a diet when you have a picky eater or a child with many food allergies, so I encourage you to discuss diet with your pediatric dentist. Together, you can come up with strategies that suit your child. Diet definitely has a role in your child’s oral health, and making simple switches early on can lead to happy smiles in the future!
Dr. Lavanya Venkateswaran is a board-certified pediatric dentist. She practices downtown at Tribeca Smiles as well as uptown at Park Ave Smile. She is an assistant professor of Clinical Dentistry at Columbia University Medical Center and is an attending dentist in the department of Pediatric Dentistry.
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