Building Teeth for Life

10th May, 2017
Leilah Wesley

The 20 primary-teeth(also referred to as baby-teeth) are ready and waiting in the jaw when a child is born. These teeth are more important than we may realise at first, because – aside from obviously helping the infant to chew, smile and speak – they also keep the space in the jaw for the adult teeth that follow.

If a baby loses teeth too early, adult teeth can emerge crooked or crowded. So, good dental care is important from the very beginning.

We know oral hygiene is vital for healthy teeth, but so is eating healthy food that promotes dental health.

Any foods containing carbohydrates or sugar start digesting in the mouth. This means that they become acidic, and acid can lead to tooth decay. One of the best things a parent can do for a child’s overall and dental health, is to teach them from an early age to make healthy food choices, to drink plenty of water, to rinse the mouth and keep saliva flowing, and to preferably not eat carbohydrates or sugar on their own.

Foods To Eat

  • Fruit:
    • Those fruits high in vitamin C help to kill the bacteria in the mouth that could lead to early gum disease.
    • Oranges, naartjies, kiwi fruit, pawpaw and strawberries will all kill bacteria and promote collagen supply to the gums to keep them healthy.
    • Importantly, children should wait a half an hour after eating acidic fruit before brushing their teeth, because the fruit acid can temporarily weaken tooth enamel and leave them susceptible to erosion.
  • Vegetables:
    • All vegetables are excellent for overall health, and the dark, leafy green ones – like spinach and broccoli – have extra calcium to build strong teeth.
    • Eating vegetables raw, however, is first prize, as chewing raw vegetables mechanically cleans teeth, while at the same time giving essential nutrients to the body.
    • Lead by example and teach your child to eat and enjoy raw carrots, celery, snap peas and beans – you will be doing them a lifelong favour.
  • Nuts and seeds:
    • The oil in seeds – sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds – strengthens tooth enamel and nuts also contain natural oils and fats that coat teeth and shield them against bacteria.
    • Trail mix – with nuts, seeds, dried coconut and a little dried fruit – is a great snack for older children as it tastes good and has plenty of oral health benefits.
  • Dairy:
    • Milk, yoghurt and cheese are all round good options for strong and healthy teeth.
    • Dairy products are rich in calcium, vitamin D and phosphate, which all help to build strong teeth.
    • Dairy lowers the pH in the mouth and so prevents acid from sugar and carbohydrates from damaging the teeth.
    • Dairy also sticks to the teeth and protects them, and it repairs damaged tooth enamel.
    • Cheese, because it’s dry, triggers saliva flow which washes food particles from the mouth.
  • Starches and sugars:
    • These foods are just unavoidable in a child’s diet, but eating them correctly can minimise their impact on oral health.
    • Eating cheese on bread, potatoes with fish or meat, sugars with natural yogurt or followed by water, all dilutes the acidic impact of starch and sugar on the teeth.
  • Drinks:
    • Try to steer clear of sugary drinks with high-fructose corn syrup and encourage children to drink diluted fruit juice and water instead.
    • Read the labels on the bottles before buying anything.
    • If children do drink sugary cold drinks, give them a glass of water afterwards to rinse the sugar from their mouths, and minimise the impact on their teeth.

Foods To Avoid

  • Foods that are sugary, chewy and sticky at the same time are generally bad news for teeth, and this also includes some foods believed to be healthy – like raisins, dried figs and fruit rolls.
  • Sugary foods that stick to the teeth prevent saliva from washing away food particles and should be avoided if possible.
  • Yes, toffee, jelly beans, chewy mints, bubblegum and caramel are in this category too. If children do eat these foods, they should rinse their mouths by drinking water afterwards. The same applies after sugary drinks and even sugary medicines. For the same reason, it’s not advisable to put your child to bed with a bottle of juice or milk, as the sugars present will also cause tooth decay.

The Jury On Snacking

  • Dentists suggest that children eat as few snacks as possible during the day, because the time between meals gives saliva a chance to wash away food particles and bacteria.
  • Try to limit snacking to once or twice a day, and try to keep the snacks as sugar free and healthy as possible.
  • Offer children yoghurt, cheese, nuts, raw vegetables or biltong – all real foods that satiate real hunger.
  • Sure this is a big ask of young children, so if they do eat sugary snacks get them to drink water immediately afterwards.