Diet & Dental Health

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Your mother was wrong: Chocolate milk is OK for children’s teeth. Chocolate milk, like white milk, provides protein, calcium and vitamins. And since children like it, they drink more of it.

A cracker is safer for teeth than a caramel, right? Wrong. The “sticking point” of choosing snacks for teeth is that we are not very good at telling how long food really stays in the mouth. Research from the Forsyth Dental Center shows that some sticky foods clear from the mouth faster than less sticky foods and thus pose a shorter acid attack on teeth. For example, caramels dissolve more quickly from the mouth than crackers, breakfast cereals, potato chips, dried fruit, or bread.

Facts on Food

• Food does not cause tooth decay, eating does. Children’s dental health depends less on what they eat and more on how often they eat it.

• Cooked starches (fermentable carbohydrates) can lead to cavities just as sugars can. In fact, such cooked starches as breads, crackers, pasta, pretzels, and potato chips frequently take longer to clear the mouth than sugars. So the decay risk may last even longer.

• To cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth, sugars are essentially the same, whether natural or processed. All types of sugars and the foods that contain them can play a role in tooth decay.

• The bacteria levels in the mouth can not tell the difference between the amount of sugar or starch in food. For example, a lick of frosting can start the same acid attack as eating a whole slice of cake.

• A food with sugar or starch is safer for teeth if it is eaten with a meal, not as a snack.

• Snacks, served no more than three or four times a day, should contribute to the overall nutrition and health of the child. Some healthy snacks are: cheese, vegetables, yogurt, peanut butter and chocolate milk.

• If children have poor diets, their teeth may not develop properly. Children need protein, vitamins and minerals, especially calcium and phosphorous, to build strong teeth and resist tooth decay and gum disease.

• A child who licks a piece of hard candy every few minutes to make it last longer or slowly sips a sugared drink while studying is putting themselves at a high risk for tooth decay. Such long-lasting snacks create an acid attack on teeth for the entire time they are in the mouth.

• Parents should select meals and snacks for dental health by caring for the whole child, providing sound nutrition as defined by the food pyramid of the US Department of Agriculture.

Tips for Parents: Diet & Dental Health

• Ask your pediatric dentist to help you assess your child’s diet.

• Provide a balanced diet and save foods with sugar or starch for meal times.

• Serve snacks no more than three or four times a day. Choose such nutritious snacks as cheese, vegetables, yogurt and chocolate milk.

• Shop smart. Do not routinely stock your pantry with sugary or starchy snacks. Buy “fun foods” just for special times.

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