By Beatriz Madrid Hicks, MA, RDH, associate professor, Clinical, Department of Periodontics, Division of Dental Hygiene
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month and a good time to think about preparing lunches to help keep your children’s teeth happy and healthy. This can be part of a beneficial routine that protects their teeth from cavities, plaque and gum disease for years to come. It can also be a fun way to teach your kids about good dental habits and how to prepare nutritious meals.
Since children’s teeth are much softer than adult teeth, they can be more prone to cavities and tooth decay than adult teeth. That’s why it’s important for children to eat healthily, brush their teeth with a soft toothbrush at least twice daily and use a toothpaste with fluoride.
It’s also a good idea for children to visit their dentist every six months for a cleaning and checkup to help remove stains, food debris and dental plaque that can be hard to remove during regular brushing.
Parents can begin flossing their children’s teeth as soon as they have most of their baby teeth. At around age seven or eight, children can learn to floss independently with the use of floss picks. Around the age of nine, children can learn to use proper flossing techniques with regular floss. Children should be flossing daily.
Combining these good dental habits with a healthful lunch can help stave off dental issues and keep your child’s smile healthy and bright. With this in mind, consider incorporating these teeth-friendly foods into your child’s lunch menu.
Apples and pears act like toothbrushes. They are crunchy, have the potential to clear plaque from your children’s teeth and can freshen breath. Another fruit to include is kiwi, which is packed with vitamin C and good for gum health. Vitamin C strengthens the collagen in gums, helping to prevent periodontal problems.
Other plaque scrubbers include carrots and celery. These foods stimulate saliva production, which washes away bacteria and bits of food.
Cheese or yogurt.
Add cubes of cheese or string cheese to your children’s lunches. The high amounts of calcium support tooth enamel, as do milk, plain yogurt and calcium-fortified tofu. They’re rich in calcium, phosphorus and casein. These minerals neutralize acid production.
Foods like meat, poultry, fish, milk and eggs provide phosphorus, which protects and rebuilds tooth enamel. For a non-meat option, pack a handful of almonds. They’re rich in protein and calcium and low in sugar.
Consider packing your children kale chips or a salad made with leafy greens like kale or romaine lettuce. Add greens to sandwiches such as spinach, bell peppers or cucumbers. These deliver plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants — all of which provide health benefits to teeth and gums.