Building and maintaining your child’s dental health is about much more than just preventing cavities. It also includes taking steps to promote proper arch development and jaw growth, strengthening and remineralizing the teeth, and good hydration. Here are seven kinds of foods that will help your child on the path to great dental (and overall) health.
1. Raw, Crunchy Vegetables
Did you know that chewing crunchy, firm food helps your child’s jaws to develop correctly? Until age 17 or so, chewing firm foods contributes to the widening of the dental arch and minimizes the risk of malocclusion (bite problems). Raw vegetables such as celery, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower are all good foods for exercising the jaws.
2. Meat, Fish, Eggs, and Vegan Proteins
Protein is crucial for children’s growth and building tissue in the body. Lean meats and poultry, fish, and eggs are good sources of animal-based protein, and nuts, beans, and tofu are great vegan sources of protein. Biting and chewing tougher sources of protein, such as nuts and lean meats, helps children to develop strong jaws and reduces their risk of bite issues.
3. Low-Carb Nuts
In addition to the valuable protein they contain, nuts that are low in carbohydrates won’t increase your child’s risk of developing tooth decay. High-carb foods, including some varieties of nuts, activate bacteria that produce acid and can lead to cavities. But low-carb nut varieties, including Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and pecans are good snack choices.
4. Firm, Crunchy Fruits
The high content of water in crunchy fruits such as apples and pears stimulates saliva flow, which helps to wash away particles of food and protect against acid. The water in these fruits also offsets the effects of their sugar content. An apple a day can help to keep away tooth decay!
5. Calcium-Rich Foods
The US recommended daily intake of calcium is 700 mg per day for children from 1-3 years old, and increases to 1000 mg per day for children aged 4-8. Between ages 9 and 18, children and young adults should strive for 1300 mg of calcium per day. Milk, cheese, and yogurt are high in calcium and phosphorus, both of which are important for remineralizing teeth after exposure to mineral-leaching acids. For lactose-intolerant children who cannot ingest dairy products, green vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens; fish including canned salmon and sardines; and some varieties of beans, such as winged beans, white beans, and navy beans are high in calcium.
6. Phosphorus-Rich Foods
Along with calcium, phosphorus helps developing teeth form a strong, solid structure as children are growing. Milk, eggs, fish, poultry, and red meat are good sources of phosphorus. Choose lean, slightly chewy cuts of meat for optimal overall health and to help children exercise their jaws. Meat particles can easily get stuck between teeth, so be sure your children floss after eating.
7. Unsweetened Drinks
Water, especially fluoridated water, is a great beverage choice for children since it contains no cavity-promoting sugars. It’s the best way for growing children to stay well-hydrated and to maintain their saliva production. In the mainland US, most public water supplies contain fluoride; check with your municipality for details. Milk, high in calcium, is also a good choice for children’s developing teeth. However, even unflavored milk contains a certain percentage of sugar and should be taken in moderation. In addition, children should always limit their intake of soft drinks, lemonade, sweetened teas, and bottled juices—even natural juices without added sugar—which are high in acid-producing sugars that can lead to tooth decay.