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Good Food Choices to Benefit Your Child's Smile
Feeding Healthy Teeth
Did you know that food plays a major role in cavity reduction? Some foods are actually less likely to promote tooth decay, including raw fruits and vegetables and other non-retentive or quick-cleaning foods. Complex carbohydrates such as grains—which have high nutritional value and break down in the stomach rather than in the mouth—are also good choices for healthy teeth. Some foods, such as milk, cheese and oats, may even have a cleansing effect on teeth and may inhibit decay. Even when these healthy foods are eaten, it's important to maintain good brushing habits after meals.

Bad Food Choices
As a general rule, foods that are sticky, processed, highly refined or retentive are not good for your child's teeth. Retentive foods such as gummy candies, fruit snacks, dried fruits, cookies and highly-processed foods are difficult to remove from tooth surfaces and are a major source of food for acid-producing bacteria. Crumbly foods such as potato chips and sweetened cereals are also not good choices, as they tend to get stuck in grooves or between teeth.

Frequency of Meals and Snacks
It's not just certain types of food that can have harmful affects on your teeth; how often you eat can also weaken your teeth's resistance to harmful acids. If a person is constantly snacking on raisins, sweet cereal or other simple carbohydrates throughout the day, the acid level in their mouth is raised, making their teeth more susceptible to dental decay.

Of course, it's impossible to eliminate all snacks and treats. But you can choose to give children sweet snacks only after meals, when other refined carbohydrates are already being consumed and their teeth are likely to be brushed soon afterwards. In between meals, choose raw or unprocessed healthy snacks to minimize acid production.

HELPFUL FOOD IDEAS

Car Trips:
try packing carrot sticks, celery, pretzels or popcorn for the ride. If your children are old enough to chew gum, you can offer them sugarless gum. Sorbitol, a sweetener found in certain gums, has been shown to be effective in warding off decay, although in large doses it may cause diarrhea. Also available is a gum that can remineralize your child's teeth, making them stronger. This gum contains a milk-derived ingredient that has been proven to strengthen tooth enamel when chewed for 15 minutes. (Please note that this gum does contain milk derivatives, so it is not appropriate for children who have milk allergies.)

Teenage Eating Habits: try prevailing on your teenager's better sense of health and vanity. Most teens are very concerned about their appearances, so a healthy smile and fresh breath should be good reasons for them to follow good eating habits.

Holidays: look for tempting alternatives to sweet and sticky treats, such as freshly roasted chestnuts, pistachio nuts, fruit with yogurt dip, sugar-free soft drinks, popcorn, pickles or olives. Or do some creative bartering—every Halloween, I offer to buy all the candy my children collect. We've been doing this for a few years, and my two sons have learned to enjoy selling their candy to me as much as they enjoy getting it from the neighbors.

HEALTHY FOOD & SNACK IDEAS

Instead of:
Candy (gummy candies, fruit snacks, hard candies, fudge, candy apples, caramel popcorn, lollipops, peanut brittle, candy bars, toffee)…

Try:
Apples, oranges, bananas, peaches, plums, nectarines, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, kiwi, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, papaya, grapefruit, cherries.

Instead of:
Snack foods (potato chips, raisins, dried fruits, sweetened cereals, cream cakes)…

Try:
Fresh vegetables: baby carrots, red and green pepper slices, celery, radishes, cucumber slices, raw turnip, broccoli and cauliflower florets.

Instead of:
Lunch box items (fruit-filled bars, snack cakes, crackers [including graham or soda], peanut butter, white bread)…

Try:
Meat slices, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, hard cheese, string cheese, cheese cubes, whole wheat bread or rolls.

Instead of:
Desserts (ice cream, cookies, cake, pie, popsicles, gelatin desserts, marshmallows)…

Try:
Fresh fruit, yogurt, fruit smoothies, fresh roasted nuts, diabetic or sugar-free desserts.