“Drink your milk, it builds strong bones!”
As parents, we’ve all said that to our kids––maybe even a few times a day. We tell them to eat carrots for their eyes and oranges to fight off colds, but do we ask them to eat broccoli for their teeth? Probably not! Most parents know what foods kids should avoid for their dental health, but today we’re going to talk about the best foods for supporting the development and health of your children’s teeth.
How Diet Affects Dental Health
Good nutrition is important for children because it not only impacts their current oral health, but their future oral health as well. Adult teeth are forming throughout childhood, so a diet lacking crucial nutrients like calcium can lead to weaker teeth in adulthood.
There are other, more immediate, ways that a child’s diet can affect their teeth. Snacks that stimulate the flow of saliva, like cheese, boost oral health by carrying away food particles and bacteria. Crunchy foods, like celery and carrots, remove plaque from children’s teeth. Drinking water with meals instead of fruit juice or soda removes food left on chewing surfaces without coating teeth in sugar.
Calcium-Rich Foods for Strong Teeth
Because calcium is critical for the formation of strong, healthy teeth, it is important to make sure children are meeting the recommended dietary allowance each day. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the RDAs for children are as follows:
- 0-6 months: 200 mg
- 7-12 months: 260 mg
- 1-3 years: 700 mg
- 4-8 years: 1,000 mg
- 9-13 years: 1,300 mg
- 14-18 years:1,300 mg
Dairy is the best dietary source of calcium. A cup of milk has about 250 mg of calcium, as does 6 ounces of yogurt. Ricotta cheese has a whopping 330 mg of calcium in a 1/2 cup serving––try mixing it with a little bit of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon, then pair it with fresh fruit for dipping.
If dairy isn’t an option, don’t worry: most non-dairy milks are fortified with calcium. Many breakfast cereals and breads are enriched with calcium too. Children who love their veggies will meet their calcium needs with plenty of broccoli, spinach, and beans.
More Nutrition Tips for Dental Health
In general, pediatric dentists recommend sticking to the same dietary guidelines outlined by your child’s pediatrician. When it comes to grains, choose whole ones and skip the white bread, cookies, and cakes. Lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and dairy are all part of a healthy diet for kids.
Sugar should be eaten sparingly; when eaten regularly, it encourages the growth of bacteria, which in turn causes cavities. Chewy candy, starchy snacks, and even sticky dried fruit like raisins are best used as occasional treats rather than lunchbox staples.