How to Pack a Mouth-Healthy Lunch for Your Child
By: Komail Abbas, General Dentist Limiting Practice to Pediatric Dentistry
When we think of healthy lunches, we often forget to consider what is healthy for our teeth. Children’s Dental Health Month is a great opportunity to think about what we can do to make sure we are taking care of our child’s oral health so they can have lifelong healthy habits.
There are a lot of foods that are great for teeth and assist in protecting the teeth against cavities.
Foods that are Good for Teeth:
- Cheese. For most of us Wisconsinites, it’s a relief to hear that cheese is good for our teeth. Cheese raises the pH in our mouths and lowers the risk of tooth decay. It's thought that the chewing required to eat cheese increases saliva in the mouth. Cheese also contains calcium and protein, which are nutrients that strengthen tooth enamel. This makes cheese a delicious snack and a great way to end meals, as it can protect your teeth until you brush at bedtime.
- Yogurt. Like cheese, yogurt is rich in calcium and protein, making it a great team player in strengthening and contributing to the overall health of your teeth. The probiotics are good bacteria that benefit your gums. This occurs because the good bacteria crowd out the bacteria that lead to cavities. If you choose to substitute yogurt for other snacks, make sure you’re picking a healthy yogurt that is plain with no added or artificial sugars.
- Leafy Greens. Least surprising, leafy greens normally make their way on to every healthy food list. They’re chock-full of vitamins and minerals while being low in calories. Kale and spinach also contribute to great oral health. They’re high in calcium, which builds your teeth’s enamel.
- If you have trouble getting leafy greens into your or your child’s diet, add a handful of baby spinach to your next salad or throw some kale on a pizza. You can also try adding some greens to a smoothie, with fresh berries or other fruit.
- Apples. The ADA recommends staying away from sugars as a rule of thumb, but there are exceptions. In this case, fruits, like apples, may contain natural sugars but they also have water and fiber. The fibrous texture of the apple stimulates the gum tissue, which helps in protecting the mouth. Eating apples also cause saliva production, which washes away food particles and bacteria naturally. Apples cannot replace the effect of brushing your teeth, but it can tide you over until you get home or are able to brush your teeth next. Consider using apples to clean your mouth following a meal.
- Carrots. Like apples, carrots are crunchy and full of fiber, which contributes to saliva production and, in turn, washes away harmful bacteria and decreasing your risk of cavities. You can include carrots as a healthy snack, and kids can munch on them plain or with dip.
- Celery. Celery is often considered bland, watery, or even critiqued for the fibrous strings, but it’s these things that make celery so good for teeth. Like apples and carrots, celery scrubs away bacteria, reducing the risk of cavities and decay.
- Almonds. Almonds are good for your teeth because they’re a great source of calcium and protein while being low in sugar. If you include a quarter cup of almonds in your or your child’s lunch, you can work to prevent cavities and strengthen teeth. If you don’t enjoy almonds on their own, you can add a handful to a salad or incorporate them in a stir-fry.
The foods that are good for your teeth are also great for your overall health and wellness, make great snacks and can be easily incorporated into school lunches.
The ADA also lists nine foods that are most likely to harm or damage your teeth. Being sure to keep these things out of school lunches can go a long way in promoting great oral health. Here are four foods and drinks to avoid during your lunch.
Foods that are Harmful to Teeth:
- Hard Candies. Hard candies may seem harmless, but they immediately expose your teeth to lots of sugars and can even trigger dental emergencies. Chewing on hard candies can damage and existing dental work or chip or crack a healthy tooth. Switch this out with a piece of sugar-free gum, a great alternative to a hard candy habit.
- Foods High in Acidity. Limiting your citric acid intake in fruits like oranges, lemons or even in juice can help protect your teeth. Acidic foods can erode enamel over time making them cavity-prone. These foods can also aggravate mouth sores. Instead, choose fruits like apples, which promote healthy mouths.
- Beware of Foods that Crunch. Who doesn’t love a great potato chip? A bag of Doritos? Even though these foods are delicious, they aren’t great for your oral health. Potato chips are filled with starches that get stuck on your teeth and contribute to tooth decay and cavities. If you’re going to eat chips, be sure to brush after the meal to remove the harmful starches and prevent them from contributing to cavities.
- Skip Sports Drinks, Sodas and Juices. While they all seem tasty, they’re loaded with sugars. Carbonation is also bad for your teeth because of its acidity, meaning it erodes enamel. The best drink to compliment is water because it helps wash away bacteria while being free of sugars and calories.
Contribute to your child’s oral health by making mouth-healthy decisions around their diet. But remember, none of these foods will ever replace brushing, flossing, or seeing your dentist for routine cleanings. Be sure your child is brushing two times a day for two minutes each time and visiting their doctor every six months.
If your child is currently receiving orthodontic treatment, some of these foods may not be the best option, as they can pose risks to braces and lead to broken brackets or dental appliances. Work with your child’s orthodontist to determine healthy alternatives to these mouth-healthy options.
If you’re concerned about your child’s oral health, schedule an appointment to meet with one of our dental teams and we would be happy to assist you in making great, manageable, oral health choices.