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A good dental routine should be established from an early age. However, paying attention to what our children eat can also make a difference to their dental health.

Brushing twice a day is good. Using mouthwash is even better. But when it comes to all round dental health, what our children eat is also important. We all know overdoing sugar is bad, but some food can actually be beneficial for teeth.

Read more about when to start a dental care routine and find some tips on brushing teeth

dental do-gooders

Food that is good for dental health includes dairy, eggs, fresh fruit, and nuts, says Julian Meyer, a Joburg-based dentist.

Milk, cheese, other dairy products and nuts contain minerals that are important for dental health, particularly calcium and phosphate, notes Durban dentist Medina Badrodin.

She explains that tooth enamel is made of hydroxyapatite, which has calcium and phosphates as its main ingredients. These types of food, as well as eggs, also contain vitamin D, which aids calcium absorption.

Eating fresh fruit and vegetables requires a lot of chewing, says Badrodin, so the food brushes against teeth while making saliva, helping to clean teeth. Vegetables and fruit also contain vitamin C, which prevents gum disease.

starchy alternatives

Starchy food like bread, biscuits and pasta is comprised of simple carbohydrates, which break down into simple sugars. But they can also become soft and stick to teeth. Bacteria in the mouth feed on this, produce acid and cause decay, says Badrodin.

So choosing wholewheat starches is better for your teeth. Badrodin adds that the best way to decrease risk of cavities is to quit snacking on high-starch food during the day and choose healthier options instead.

tough on teeth

Meyer says the following are not so good for teeth:

  • sugary food
  • sweets
  • concentrated fruit juice
  • carbonated soft drinks
  • fruit high in acid.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid eating acidic fruit. Alison Lang, a dietician in Joburg, encourages us to eat five fruit and vegetable portions a day. Sipping juice from a bottle can compromise dental health, but eating the fruit is still encouraged as part of a balanced diet.

Children shouldn’t brush their teeth immediately after eating acidic or sugary food, says Badrodin. “The combined action of brushing and acid can weaken enamel.” Rather drink water to neutralise the acid or chew sugar-free gum that contains xylitol. This can help to dislodge food, while the saliva produced protects against the acid and the xylitol inhibits bacteria.

Eating sweets isn’t ever a good idea, but sweets such as toffees, sour sweets, nut brittles, hardboiled sweets and ice lollies should definitely be avoided. If your children are getting a sweet as a treat, choose ones that are less of a problem, says Meyer, like chocolates, marshmallows or liquorice.

Routines to remember

 Meyer recommends regular tooth care:

  • Children should be brushing teeth twice a day, with a parent supervising and/or brushing for them as well.
  • Children over six years old should floss two to three times a week. Parents should do this for them initially.
  • A fluoride mouthwash can be used with children from six years old, about twice a week. Dip the toothbrush into a glass with mouthwash and brush.
  • Children should start visiting the dentist when they’re between four-and-a-half to five years old, followed by check-ups every six months.

Tamlyn Vincent