Written by: Cally Worden
The appearance of those little pearly-whites in your baby’s mouth sparks the start of a lifelong need for dental care. We all know the basics – the importance of brushing regularly, age appropriate toothbrush and paste, regular visits to the dentist to keep your kids teeth healthy- but what about all the peripheral stuff? You know, the ‘What-Can-I-Allow-My-Kid-To-Eat-Without-Wrecking-Their-Teeth type questions. Look no further – your essential guide to the most common questions about your kids’ teeth is right here.
Is it Okay to Give Sweets?
Most kids love sweets. A lot of parents do too. Gummy Bears just taste WAY too good in my opinion. But sugar and acid attack teeth – fact. Clearly the best solution is to avoid them altogether. Right. Since we live in the real world we’ll scrap that as an idea. Experts suggest that as well as limiting the number of sweets we give to our kids to a sensible amount (a few a day), we think about WHEN they have them too. Surprisingly the perceived wisdom is to offer them with – or just after – a meal. Apparently this helps the absorption of acid and sugar, preventing it from coating the teeth too much.
What Snacks Are Best Then?
You know what’s coming – yes, fruit and vegetables. Most kids love fruit, and sliced banana, Satsuma segments and pieces of apple are usually crowd-pleasers. Similarly the likes of carrot sticks and strips of sweet peppers also go down well. But you know as well and I do that sometimes the fresh stuff just doesn’t cut it. Who doesn’t love the odd cake-or-biscuit indulgence? As with sweets, moderation is the key. And if it makes you feel better then try making your own – it’s not difficult if you choose your recipe with care. You know exactly what’s going into the finished product, and you get a fab kitchen-bonding session into the bargain.
Fizzy Drinks – Are they Really THAT Bad?
Well, yes, actually they are. The acid contained in fizzy drinks actively erodes the protective enamel on teeth, leaving them more susceptible to decay. Personally I don’t think the odd fizz-fest does any long-term harm though. If I’m feeling guilty I offer the bubble-stuff in a glass with a straw, which offers better protection for the front teeth than drinking straight from a bottle or a can.
So What Drinks Should I Offer?
Water or Milk (provided your child is over 12 months of age). If your child has only ever had the occasional exposure to sweeter fruit juice alternatives then the whole water-or-milk thing will pose no problem. But most kids have fruit cordials or fresh fruit juice reasonably regularly, and after this water seems desperately dull. Teeth are best protected from the acids in fruit drinks if they are served with a meal. So perhaps a compromise is best – water between meals, milk in the morning and at bedtime, and fruit juice with lunch and dinner. Then your child will get a varied and balanced liquid intake without damaging their teeth.
Does Bedtime Milk Damage Kids’ Teeth?
Water is the best pre-bed drink to offer, as anything else can coat the teeth with set to work on them during the night. Milk is the next best alternative though, and many children find this comforting. Avoid flavoured milks and be sure to clean your kids’ teeth before tucking them in for the night.
Are Sippy Cups Bad for Teeth?
The jury is out on this. Sippy cups resemble bottles in that they require a sucking action to extract the liquid. This can cause your child to hold their mouth and position their teeth in a certain way – excessive use MAY encourage teeth to alter their growth direction. Experts recommend a feeder cup instead, which allows liquid to flow freely, but not too quickly, limiting spillages but mimicking normal drinking actions more closely.
So When Should We Ditch the Bottle?
My kids loved their bottles. Persuading them to give them up was akin to wrestling a banana from a chimp – it wasn’t easy. Advice from those-who-know suggests encouraging the move from bottle to cup as early as six months, with the bottle being history completely by the age of one. Hmm. We did a sort of halfway house, where the kids were allowed their bottle at bedtime only until about 18 months old. A quick trip to the store at this age where they were allowed to selected a brightly coloured feeder cup of their very own was enough to break the bottle-obsession with relative ease.
Is Dummy or Thumb Sucking Bad for Teeth?
No, provided the habit is largely broken by the time second teeth start to appear. What the sucking action does do is create a more open ‘bite’ in your child’s mouth, where the teeth will naturally part to make space in the mouth. Consistent sucking on something can also affect speech development, as it blocks up the mouth, offering fewer opportunities for speech experimentation.