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One of the best things parents can do to help prevent kids’ cavities is to be smart about their diets.

From infants through the teen years, what kids eat — and how often they eat — plays a huge role.

In fact, changes in our mouths start the minute we eat certain foods. Bacteria in the mouth convert the sugars in food and drinks into acids. These acids then begin to attack the enamel on teeth and start the whole decay process.

Thus, the more often kids snack, eat and drink, the more often their teeth are exposed to this cycle of decay.

Smart Food Choices for Healthy Teeth

The best food choices for the health of your child’s mouth include cheeses, chicken or other meats, nuts and milk.

These foods are believed to protect tooth enamel by providing the calcium and phosphorus needed to “remineralize” teeth (a natural process where minerals are redeposited in tooth enamel after being removed by acids).

Other smart choices include firm/crunchy foods like apples, pears and vegetables.

These foods have a high water content, which dilutes the effects of the sugars they contain. They also stimulate the flow of saliva, which helps protect against decay by washing away food particles and buffering acid.

Acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes and lemons, should be eaten as part of a larger meal to minimize the acid from them.

Foods to Avoid

Poor food choices include:

  • Candy — such as lollipops, hard candies, and mints
  • Cookies, cakes, pies
  • Breads, muffins, potato chips, pretzels, french fries
  • Bananas, raisins, and other dried fruits

These foods contain large amounts of sugar and/or can stick to teeth, providing a fuel source for bacteria.

In addition, cough drops should be used only when necessary. Like sugary candy, cough drops contribute to tooth decay because they continuously coat the teeth with sugar.

Best and Worst Drinks for Kids

The best choices for beverages include:

  • Water (especially fluoridated water)
  • Milk
  • Unsweetened tea

The worst are sugary drinks such as:

  • Juice,
  • Soft drinks
  • Lemonade

In particular, don’t allow day-long sipping of sugar-filled drinks. This exposes your child’s teeth to constant sugar and, in turn, constant decay-causing acids.

If you have specific questions about diet and oral health, always consult with your dentist.

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Sources and further reading: Diet and Oral Health

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