The best and worst foods for your family's teeth

Kinderling News & Features

When it comes to the foods that are best for our kids teeth, it can seem pretty straight forward.

Sugar = bad. Not sugar = not-so-bad.

While that is sometimes the case, there are also some straightforward ways to make sure that even when so called bad foods are being consumed, a childs' teeth are still protected.

Dr Philippa Sawyer is a paediatric specialist dentist from the Australian Dental Association, and she revealed that the main perpetrator behind certain foods like lollipops is not sugar, but something much simpler; the amount of time food spends in the mouth.

Here are some of the areas that Philippa says we need to be vigilant.

Processed foods

Philippa says the most obvious type of food that increase risks of tooth decay are processed foods.

"[In processed foods], the sugar ... in them is concentrated and freely available in the mouth. if things are freely available in the mouth then bacteria can actually use them to reproduce grow, and thrive. Bacteria produce acid that then causes problems with tooth decay. It increases the risk of tooth decay."

Lollipops and sultanas

It sort of feels silly to say lollipops are bad for teeth, but the reason they're thought to be bad goes beyond simple nutritional content. It's actually a combination of sugar and the fact that to eat a lollipop, you have to suck on it for a long time. This amount of time spent in the mouth without a break from sugars and acids is what contributes to decay. 

"Anything that you suck for a long period of time is going to cause damage to your teeth. You can look at the sugar content, the acid content, as well, but if you're exposing your teeth to a food source over a long period of time, you're not just feeding yourself itself, you're feeding bacteria. The bacteria are prospering and producing that acid that’s then going to cause some problems with your teeth," Philippa explains.

This means that even something thought to be a 'healthy' treat like a sultana can actually be bad for growing teeth, if not monitored.

"When you eat something that is quite sticky it gets caught into those and it’ll stay in your mouth for quite a long period of time so if you check your child's teeth after they've had these sorts of foods, after 10 minutes or so you can still see that that food is still lodge in those little cracks."

Instead of feeling anxious every time your child eats something that you know is sticky and messy, follow up on that particular type of food with another that compliments it in texture.

Philippa says foods like red capsicum, carrot, cucumber, celery sticks, anything with a different type of acidity base that gets your child chewing and dislodging the other stuff that can get caught in the little cracks in their teeth.

Fruits and vegetables 

You can't go wrong with a crunchy veggie or fabulous fruit can you? Well, it depends. Similarly to lollipops and sweet treats, it all has to do with how long a food is in your mouth. If you eat acidic or sugary fruits through the day, you're not allowing time for your mouths natural bacteria state to reset. 

"Fruit is really great for kids... but if you continually eat fruit all day, and the frequency is increased then you're going to have an increased exposure of teeth to food acids as well as the sugar... A new born baby feeds six times a day. Does your two or three-year-old need to eat more than five times a day? Breakfast, lunch, dinner, morning tea and afternoon tea; these are generally enough times for them to have an exposure to those different foods," Philippa suggests.

Listen to Dr Philippa Sawyer on Kinderling Conversation

Food before bedtime

As a child moves to solids, it can become a nightly ritual to have a warm milk  before bed, as calming or soothing way to be sent off to sleep. Unfortunately if a child goes to bed with milk residue on their teeth (without having brushed) they can then be sleeping the whole night with the perfect environment for the bad bacteria that can cause tooth decay.

That doesn't mean the milk before bed needs to be banished. Philippa says all you have to do is make sure your child’s mouth is cleaned before they head off to the land of nod.

"Whether that's with a brush or you're just wiping them with a cloth you need to do that before they go off for that night time that long sleep at night the same goes for older children. If you're going to give them some milk by all means give them some milk half an hour before you’re going to brush their teeth. But don't miss that tooth brushing before they go off to bed"

Where to now?

All of this information can seem a little overwhelming, but Philippa says the main takeaway is to give your child space between meals, and to drink plenty of water after and during meals.

This is because it allows the good bacteria in their mouths the reset and builds toward healthy mouths.

"They need those breaks for their mouth to actually turn things around and repair what damage is done by the food… in terms of the teeth the worst thing you can do is expose the teeth over long periods of time to food."

For more tips and resources on oral health for your and your family, head to the Australian Dental Association website.