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Teach kids about healthy snacks for healthy teeth

Hanscom AFB -- Fluoridated water supplies have reduced the prevalence of tooth decay for many youngsters. It is still important for parents and caregivers, however, to teach children the basics of proper brushing, flossing and diet. 

Here are a few answers to common questions adapted from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry about promoting a healthy dental environment for children:

Q: How do children's diets affect their dental health?
A: A child must have a balanced diet for teeth to develop properly and for healthy gum tissue around the teeth. Equally important, a diet high in certain kinds of carbohydrates, such as sugar and starches, including fruit juices, may place your child at extra risk for tooth decay.

Q: How can children's diets be made more safe for their teeth?
A: First, be sure they have a balanced diet. Then, check how frequently they eat foods with sugar or starch in them. Starchy foods include breads, crackers, pasta and such snacks as pretzels and potato chips. 

When checking for sugar, look beyond the sugar bowl and candy dish. A variety of foods contain one or more types of sugar, and all types of sugars can promote dental decay. Fruits, a few vegetables and most milk products have at least one type of sugar. Sugar is also high in juice and soda pop. Never send a baby to bed with juice in the bottle, and be sure to limit juice and soda consumption. 

Sugar can be found in many processed foods, even some which do not taste sweet. For example, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich not only has sugar in the jelly, but may have sugar added to the peanut butter. Sugar is also added to such condiments as ketchup and salad dressings.

Q: Should my child give up all foods with sugar or starch?
A: Certainly not. Many provide nutrients children need. Caregivers simply need to select and serve them wisely. Foods with sugars and starches are safer for teeth when eaten with meals, not as snacks. Sticky foods, such as dried fruit or toffee, are not easily washed away from the teeth by saliva, water or milk, so they have more cavity-causing potential than foods more rapidly cleared from the teeth. Talk to your pediatric dentist about selecting and serving foods that protect your child's dental health.

Q: Does a balanced diet assure that my child is getting enough fluoride?
A: No. A balanced diet does not guarantee the proper amount of fluoride for the development and maintenance of children's teeth. If you do not live in a fluoridated community or have an ideal amount of naturally occurring fluoride in your well water, your child needs a fluoride supplement during the years of tooth development. The pediatric dentist can help assess how much supplemental fluoride the child needs, based upon the amount of fluoride in drinking water and the child's age and weight.

Q: My youngest isn't on solid foods yet. Do you have suggestions?
A: Don't nurse younger children to sleep or put them to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, juice or sweetened liquid. While they sleep, any unswallowed liquid in the mouth supports bacteria that produces acids and attack the teeth, causing cavities. One of the most disturbing things seen by dental professionals is the result of overnight bottle use. 

This leads to rampant cavities. Although bottles make wonderful pacifiers for infants, there are two important things to keep in mind: 

--  Overnight exposure to milk, juice or any liquid with sugar in it will promote tooth decay (this also includes breast milk for mothers who breast feed or pump breast milk).
-- Repeated use of bottles and pacifiers may promote malpositioning of teeth and abnormalities in jaw growth. 

Protect children from severe tooth decay by putting them to bed with nothing more than a pacifier or bottle of water. 

Bottom-line tips for your child's diet and dental health:
-- Ask your pediatric dentist to help you assess your child's diet. 
--  Shop smart. Do not routinely stock your pantry with sugary or starchy snacks. Buy "fun foods" just for special times. 
-- Limit the number of snack times; choose nutritious snacks. 
-- Provide a balanced diet and save foods with sugar or starch for mealtimes. 
-- Don't put younger children to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice. 
-- If your child chews gum or sips soda, choose those without sugar and encourage rinsing with water afterward.