Unfortunately, when it comes to our teeth, we’re not like sharks – we don’t have 3 rows of teeth and we can’t grow a new one if we lose one! On the other hand, if we look after our teeth we can keep them forever. Here’s 8 important ideas for keeping your kid’s teeth strong, healthy and clean.
We need teeth to bite and chew our food so that it’s small enough to be swallowed. Chewing also encourages us to produce more saliva, which has important enzymes that start the process of digestion. But we also need teeth to pronounce our words properly – try saying “th” without your front teeth, it’s not easy!
Growing strong healthy teeth with calcium and fluoride
What we eat can have an effect on the health of our teeth. One of the major nutrients important for tooth health is calcium. Adequate calcium, throughout the lifecycle, is important for both strong bones and teeth.
The best source of calcium in the diet is dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. Other dietary sources of calcium include soy milks which have calcium added; tofu; fish which have soft edible bones such as sardines or salmon; green leafy vegetables such as spinach or broccoli; breakfast cereals with added calcium, and some fruits like oranges also contain calcium.
Fluoride is another mineral that also helps to maintain the hardness of bones and teeth. Where water is not fluoridated a healthy balanced diet will not necessarily guarantee the proper amount of fluoride for the healthy development and maintenance of children’s teeth.
In places where fluoridated water is not available it is important to choose a fluoridated tooth paste and supervise the use of this to ensure that only small amounts are used. The use of a fluoride tablet is also recommended by the NZ Dental Association from the age of three in places where water is not fluoridated. Fluoride that is consumed will be secreted in our saliva to help protect the teeth that have formed.
Foods that create decay in teeth
Some foods though are not good for the health of our teeth. It is both the sweet and acidic foods that will contribute to dental issues.
It is the frequency of eating or sipping on sweet foods that can have the biggest impact on dental health. Plaque can build up on teeth. The bacteria in plaque need food. They feed on the sugars in the food we eat. As they feed they produce acid, which leads to the demineralisation of the tooth’s enamel. This in turn leads to dental caries (holes).
The longer that the sweet foods stick to the teeth, or the more frequently sweet sticky foods are eaten, or the longer a sweet drink is sipped on then the more acid is produced by the bacteria.
Sweet foods like lollies, cakes, biscuits, coffee and tea with sugar, sweet muesli bars and dried fruit can all contribute to higher rates of tooth decay. Sweetened soft drinks are high in sugar and are acidic so are a high-risk beverage.
Ideally foods high in sugar should be limited to meal times rather than having them as snacks. Including calcium rich foods with meals will also help with the remineralisation of teeth. Following a meal or snack with some fresh fruit and/or a glass of water will also help to clean the teeth.
Drinks that create decay in teeth
For young children or babies it is also important to remember that it is never recommended to let them sip on bottles of milk or juice constantly over the day as this acts as a source of constant sugar for the bacteria.
Even though milk is a good source of calcium and therefore good for dental health, babies who go to bed with a bottle are a high risk for dental decay as teeth will be coated with natural sugars from the milk for a long period of time increasing acid production from the bacteria.
5 top tips to give your child a health smile
Of course, along with considering how foods affect dental health, establishing a regular routine of brushing teeth and having regular dental checks is also very important.
Young children need to be supervised with brushing their teeth up to the age of 7 – it can be very hard for wee kids to get right to the back of their teeth, and they often prefer to just do a quick flick with a brush instead of a good job.
- BRUSH TWICE A DAY. Use a soft toothbrush. Use full strength fluoride toothpaste; children under six need only a smear of fluoride toothpaste and children over six, a pea-sized amount. Supervise young children and teach them to spit out, not rinse or swallow.
- HAVE REGULAR DENTAL CHECK-UPS … THEY ARE FREE! Children are entitled to free basic oral health care until their 18th birthday. It is important to enrol your child as early as possible – to enrol just call 0800 Talk Teeth (0800 825 953).
- LIFT THE LIP EVERY MONTH and CHECK YOUR CHILD’S TEETH and GUMS. Gently lift your child’s top lip once a month to check inside their mouth. It’s a quick and easy way to see if tooth decay (holes) is present.
- CHOOSE HEALTHY, TEETH FRIENDLY SNACKS. These include bread, cheese, raw vegetables, unsweetened /unsalted popcorn, yoghurt.
- DRINK WATER or MILK. For drinks milk and water are best. Only these drinks should be put in babies bottles or sipper cups.
For more info and teeth cleaning tips go to www.letstalkteeth.co.nz
Our teeth are the hardest part of our body. Our role as a parent or caregiver is to encourage good dental habits from a young age so our children’s teeth can be kept healthy and strong and therefore decreasing the chance of needing fillings.
For tons more advice on toddler health care, and common complaints, check out our Preschooler: Health and wellbeing section.