This is the second article on children’s dental health written by Kelsey Scott, DDS, a pediatric dentist, and my daughter-in-law.
Young child having her teeth checked
Eating for tooth health begins when the first tooth develops at six weeks gestation. The most important thing for the expectant mother to have in her diet for her child’s dental health is fluoridated water. The fluoride will help develop strong teeth for the growing baby. Fluoridated water is one of the most cost-efficient and beneficial nutrients for your child’s dental health. After birth, if the child is formula fed, use fluoridated water to mix the formula. Check with your city health department to see if water fluoridation is regulated.
The recommended amount is 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter or 0.7 ppm (parts per million).
Drinking tap water every day, if it has fluoride, is a great preventive measure. If your water does not have fluoride, you can get a prescription from your doctor or dentist for fluoride drops or chewable tablets. Babies under 6 months should not drink plain water, but after 6 months can drink 4-8 ounces of water daily. Older children can drink more.
Once an infant is 6 months, your pediatrician can apply fluoride varnish to any teeth present and will do so every six months or until your child begins seeing the dentist. This varnish will help to prevent or slow down any tooth decay. Both public and private health insurance should cover fluoride varnish as part of their preventative services.
Baby’s First Teeth
Once a child begins eating solid foods, nutrition for dental health goes beyond water. Crunchy veggies like carrots and celery help to cleanse the teeth. Crunchy fruit, like apples, will also benefit the teeth. These can be given after one to two years. Avoid lemons and limes because the acid can cause erosion of the strongest outer layer of the teeth, the enamel. When age-appropriate (age 4), eating nuts instead of chewy, sticky foods is a good snack. For example, dried chewy fruit will stick to the teeth and cause cavities, especially those with added sugar. Avoid sugary items, such as fruit roll-ups and chewy candies, and limit dried fruit. For the sweet tooth, dark chocolate is a good choice as it will not stick to the teeth, or consider sweets made with vegetables (see “Sweet Tooth” article published August 10th, 2022). Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and sticky candies - these will significantly increase the risk of cavities.
Sticky, Chewy, Sugary Candies - A Dentist’s Nightmare!
If your child enjoys chewing gum, the best kind is one without sugar and with xylitol because it prevents bacteria from sticking to the teeth and therefore prevents cavities. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, chewing gum should not be given before age 5. Explain that gum is not food to be swallowed but should be spat out. Some brands endorsed by the American Dental Association include 5, Dentyne Ice, Eclipse, Extra, Ice Breakers, Orbit, Stride, and Trident – these are the sugar-free varieties. Look for the ADA seal on the package. Too much xylitol can cause an upset stomach and diarrhea, so use it in moderation.
Gum With Xylitol May Help Clean the Teeth but is NOT a Substitute for Brushing
Non-nutritive habits can also affect the teeth. Pacifiers can be soothing for babies, but with continual use, an open bite can develop. It is best to end pacifier use by 4-6 months while the parent is in control. An open bite may correct itself if pacifier usage completely stops before age two to three years. Make sure to use age-appropriate pacifiers and sterilize pacifiers because they can harbor bacteria. They can be washed in hot soapy water, boiled, soaked in a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water, or run in the dishwasher on the top rack if dishwasher safe. Thumb or finger sucking can also cause changes in the bite, and increase the risk of dental trauma like a tooth fracture. It is better to use a pacifier at a young age because pacifiers can be stopped when age appropriate.
There are numerous preventive measures to take with your child to ensure healthy baby teeth and to help them develop healthy adult teeth.