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Diet and Snacking

Q: What is a healthy diet for my child?

A healthy diet is a balanced diet that naturally supplies all the nutrients your child needs to grow. A balanced diet is one that includes the following major food groups: Grain Products; Vegetables & Fruit; Milk Products; and Meat & Alternatives. These are the key groups according to Canada’s Food Guide.

Q: How does my children’s diet affect their dental health?

They must have a balanced diet for their teeth to develop properly. They also need a balanced diet for healthy gum tissue around the teeth. Equally important, a diet high in certain kinds of carbohydrates, such as sugar and starches, may place your child at extra risk for tooth decay.

Q: How do I make my children’s diet safe for their teeth?

First, be sure they have a balanced diet. Then, check how frequently they eat foods with sugar or starch in them. Foods with starch include breads, crackers, pasta and snacks, such as pretzels and potato chips. When checking for sugar, look beyond the sugar bowl and candy dish. A variety of foods contain one or more types of sugar, and all types of sugars can promote dental decay. Fruits, a few vegetables, and most milk products have at least one type of sugar. Sugar can be found in many processed foods, even some that do not taste sweet. For example, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich not only has sugar in the jelly, but may have sugar added to the peanut butter. Sugar is also added to such condiments as ketchup and salad dressings.

Q: Should my child give up all foods with sugar or starch?

Certainly not! Many provide nutrients your child needs. You simply need to select and serve them wisely. A food with sugar or starch is safer for teeth if it is eaten with a meal, not as a snack. Sticky foods, such as dried fruit or toffee, are not easily washed away from the teeth by saliva, water or milk. Therefore, they have more cavity-causing potential than foods more rapidly cleared from the teeth. Talk to your pediatric dentist about selecting and serving foods that protect your child’s dental health.

Q: Does a balanced diet assure that my child is getting enough fluoride?

No. A balanced diet does not guarantee the proper amount of fluoride for the development and maintenance of your child’s teeth. If you do not live in a fluoridated community or have an ideal amount of naturally occurring fluoride in your well water, your child may need a fluoride supplement during the years of tooth development. Your pediatric dentist can help assess how much supplemental fluoride your child needs, based upon the amount of fluoride in your drinking water and other potential sources of fluoride.

Q: My child isn't on solid foods yet. Do you have suggestions?

Do not nurse a young child to sleep or put him to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, juice or sweetened liquid. While a child sleeps, any unswallowed liquid in the mouth feeds bacteria that produce acids and attack the teeth. Protect your child from severe tooth decay by putting him to bed with nothing more than a pacifier or bottle of water.

Q: Do you have any more tips?

Yes. Here are tips for your child's diet and dental health.

  • Ask your pediatric dentist to help you assess your child's diet.
  • Shop smart! Do not routinely stock your pantry with sugary or starchy snacks. Buy "fun foods" just for special times.
  • Limit the number of snack times; choose nutritious snacks.
  • Provide a balanced diet, and save foods with sugar or starch for mealtimes.
  • Don't put your young child to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice.
  • If your child chews gum or sips soda, choose those without sugar.

Dental Care for Your Baby

Q. When should my child first see a dentist?

"First visit by first birthday" sums it up. Your child should visit the pediatric dentist when the first tooth comes in, usually between 6 and 12 months of age. This visit will establish a dental home for your child. Early examination and preventive care will protect your child’s smile now and in the future.

Q. Why so early? What dental problems could a baby have?

The most important reason is to begin a thorough prevention program. Dental problems can begin early. A big concern is Early Childhood Caries (formerly known as baby bottle tooth decay or nursing caries). Once a child’s diet includes anything besides breast-milk, erupted teeth are at risk for decay. The earlier the dental visit, the better the chance of preventing dental problems. Children with healthy teeth chew food easily and smile with confidence. Start your child now on a lifetime of good dental habits.

Q. How can I prevent tooth decay from nursing or using a bottle?

At-will breast-feeding should be avoided after the first primary (baby) teeth begin to erupt and other sources of nutrition have been introduced. Children should not fall asleep with a bottle containing anything other than water. Drinking juice from a bottle should be avoided. Fruit juice should only be offered in a cup with meals or at snack time.

Q. When should bottle-feeding be stopped?

Children should be weaned from the bottle at 12-14 months of age.

Q. Should I worry about thumb and finger sucking?

Thumb sucking is perfectly normal for infants; many stop by age two. Prolonged thumb sucking can create crooked teeth or bite problems. If the habit continues beyond age three, a professional evaluation is recommended. Your pediatric dentist will be glad to suggest ways to address a prolonged thumb sucking habit.

Q. When should I start cleaning my baby’s teeth?

The sooner the better! Starting at birth, clean your child’s gums with a soft infant toothbrush or cloth and water. As soon as the teeth begin to appear, start brushing twice daily using fluoridated toothpaste and a soft, age-appropriate sized toothbrush. Use a "smear" of toothpaste to brush the teeth of a child less than two years of age. For the two to five year old, dispense a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and perform or assist your child’s toothbrushing. Remember that young children do not have the ability to brush their teeth effectively.

Q. Do you have any advice on teething?

From six months to age three, your child may have tender gums when teeth erupt. Many children like a clean teething ring, cool spoon or cold wet washcloth. Some parents swear by a chilled ring; others simply rub the baby’s gums with a clean finger.