For healthy teeth, your child needs nutritious foods. The best time to incorporate healthy foods into your child’s diet starts at birth and goes through the early years. The diet choices you make determine your baby’s food habits as they grow and ensure a healthy set of milk teeth and permanent teeth.
Foods provide nutrition and ensure a healthy set of milk and permanent teeth in children.
Ignoring the right foods can lead to dental conditions like early childhood caries, defects in teeth structures, gum infections, and teeth loss.
Parents need to be aware of the good and bad foods, including beverages. Incorporating healthy feeding habits is vital.
It's best to talk to a pediatrician or a pediatric dentist to know what works best.
Read on to learn how healthy foods can take care of your child's dental health and what types of foods are best for them.
Link between food and oral disease
The right foods provide much-needed nutrition for children. Proper nutrition helps the teeth to form, develop and erupt in time. Here is why you need to keep track of what you feed your child.
Early childhood caries (ECC)
Early childhood caries, also called nursing bottle/baby bottle caries, are common among young children. Interestingly, ECC has strong links to food and feeding habits. Putting a baby to sleep with a bottle of sweetened milk or a pacifier dipped in honey or syrups is the main culprit. Syrups and sugars can stick and bathe your child's teeth while they sleep and are highly cariogenic. The impact doesn't end here — studies show that if milk teeth develop caries, the permanent teeth are caries-prone too.
Defective teeth and bleeding gums
Nutrition ensures strong immunity and strong teeth too. The soft tissues surrounding the teeth need proper nutrients to fight infections. A malnourished child can suffer from loose, bleeding gums, weak jaw bones, structural defects in teeth, and eventual teeth loss.
Acidic fruit juices, citrus fruits like lemons, and canned fizzy drinks can erode the teeth enamel and leave your child with weakened and sensitive teeth.
Food choices based on child's age
Food choices for children differ from age to age. The quantity and type of foods your child needs can grow with age. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry strongly supports the following dietary practices for infants and children.
If your baby is between 0–1-year-old, consider the following:
- Newborns and infants depend on liquids mostly. Breastfeeding is good due to its high nutritional value. It's recommended to develop immunity. It's best to avoid breastfeeding several times, through the night, to lower the risk of ECC.
- Juice or juice drinks are not to be introduced to infants before one year of age.
- Avoid putting your baby to sleep with a sippy cup, a sweetened pacifier, or a milk bottle. If you can't avoid a bottle, fill it with plain water.
- Introduce your child to plain, fluoridated drinking water at 6 months of age.
- If your baby needs medicinal syrup, check out for a sugar-free option.
Here are the tips for those having a child who's older than 1 year:
- Establish a regular feeding regimen. Emphasize nutrient-dense foods and limit sugars.
- Include enough from the five essential food categories (fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy). Milk and plain water are the safest drinks.
- Reducing early exposure to sweet foods and beverages can help children from developing a sweet tooth. To lower children's risk of dental caries, keep sugar intake to less than 5% of total calorie intake.
Choosing the right foods for your child's teeth: A parents’ guide
A parents' guide to help choose the right foods for the child's teeth:
- Know the food compositions. Read the food labels. Stay informed. Find out what the foods and beverages are made up of. Be aware of the age-wise diet recommendations. You are in charge of your child's health and teeth.
- Keep it nutrient-rich. As soon as your child is ready to take solids, include fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products (milk, cheese, and yogurt), and whole grains in daily meals. Include hard cheeses and lots of water.
- Limit added sugars. The AHA advises limiting the intake of added sugars to 6 teaspoons (less than 25 grams) a day, for children aged 2 to 18 years. Below 2, parents should refrain from all forms of added sugars.
- Develop a healthy snacking habit. Research shows that children are at risk of ECC when they indulge in more than 3 sugary snacks between meals. Get your child into the habit of opting for healthy snacks and avoiding junk.
- Limit sugars to mealtimes. Chocolates, caramels, candies, cereal bars, sweetened energy drinks, and sodas can increase the risk of caries every time your child eats them between meals. Try to avoid them or make sure your child enjoys them with meals only.
- Level up on vitamins and micronutrients. Vitamins A, B, C, D, calcium, and phosphorus are among the primary nutrients that help in strengthening teeth, gums, and jaw bones. Make sure to optimize their levels as your child grows.
- Look out for fluoride. Your baby can have up to a 60% lower chance of dental cavities if they use fluoridated toothpaste and consume fluoridated beverages. Talk to your dentist about how much fluoride is good for your child.
- Keep them hydrated. Make sure your child drinks plenty of water. It helps to maintain a neutral PH within the mouth and prevents food accumulation and plaque.
- Let them chew. Include hard foods that need to be chewed. This makes the jaw muscles work and makes them strong.
- Be careful with teething. Most babies start teething around 6 months. Your child may lose appetite during this phase, so it's best to give mashed food/purée at this time. Use a spoon to avoid sensitive gums.
Encourage your child to develop healthy food habits to fight caries and dental diseases. A balanced and nutritious diet, along with brushing and flossing, can help keep your child's teeth strong.
- International Journal of Health Sciences and Research. A Critical Appraisal of Diet and Nutrition on Oral Health in Children: A Review.
- American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Policy on dietary recommendations for infants, children, and adolescents.
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Baby Food and Oral Health: Knowledge of the Existing Interaction.