Maintain Your Child’s Oral Health
Establishing good eating habits in early childhood will help prevent health problems, including oral health issues, later on in life. Nutritious foods provide the right amount of vitamins and minerals to help maintain the health of the teeth and gums. Healthy foods also boost the immune system and help ward off infection, decay and disease. Proper eating habits will contribute to oral health that will last a lifetime. Whether your child is a toddler or an adolescent, you can take steps to encourage smart eating habits.
Early childhood tooth decay and caries (cavities) are among the most common health problems facing American infants, children and adolescents. Ingestion of sugary or acidic foods and beverages, and the prolonged contact of these substances with the teeth, contributes to the development of cavities and the prevalence of tooth decay. Oral health issues related to a poor diet are preventable. Nutritious conscious parents who limit or eliminate certain high sugar content foods and beverages from their children’s diets can help prevent cavities for their children. Children who are at a high risk for tooth decay should restrict their liquid intake to milk or water.
Parents should be conscious of alternatives for sugar laden drinks. Children active in sports should limit their intake of sugary sports drinks. We recommend the use of electrolyte enhanced water in place of such beverages.
Aside from contributing to oral health, a nutritious diet helps prevent other health issues. Increased and frequent consumption of sugary foods and beverages is linked with childhood obesity.
Five Strategies to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits:
- Serve a variety of healthy foods and snacks.
Kids often eat what food is available at home. To help develop healthy eating habits for your children, work fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks into their daily routine. Healthy snacks include foods such as: peanut butter and celery, yogurt, and whole-grain crackers and cheese. To ensure a balanced diet, serve lean meats and other sources of protein, such as eggs and nuts. Avoid low nutrient snacks such as fast food and candy. In place of sugary drinks and fruit juices, serve water and milk. Minimize your child’s soda consumption as the carbonation found in soda can actually erode tooth enamel. When soda is served, encourage your child to use a straw, which will help keep at least some of the carbonated soda away from the teeth.
- Have regular family meals.
Research shows that kids who take part in regular family meals are more likely to eat healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains, and are less likely to choose unhealthy snacks between meals. To encourage family meals, keep mealtime calm and pleasant with no lectures or arguing. Allow your teens to invite a friend at times and be sure to plan around a child who is at sports practice.
- Avoid battles over food.
To encourage healthy eating and avoid unnecessary battles over food, establish a predictable schedule of meals and snacks. Be careful not to use food as a bribe or as a reward with your children. Avoid using dessert as the prize for eating a meal. Do not force kids to clean their plates, as doing so trains them to ignore and override the feeling of being full.
- Be a role model by eating healthy yourself.
Be an example to your children and send the right message about healthy eating by choosing healthy foods yourself. Children will follow the lead of adults they see every day. Providing your own body with vitamins and minerals is important in maintaining your own oral health.
- Involve children in the process.
Teach your child at a young age the importance of making nutritional choices. Talk to them about making choices and preparing a healthy meal. Look at food labels with your child to teach them how to identify a healthy or unhealthy food based on the nutritional values. Encourage them to help with age-appropriate tasks in the kitchen, such as helping to prepare healthy school lunches.