Taking Care of Your Child’s Teeth

We are often asked at the store when kids should start to brush their teeth. We usually refer people to their pediatrician or dentist. Dr. Mary Tierney from City Kids Dental in Chicago gives her tips below on what parents should know about their children's dental health.

Things that will surprise you that are bad for your children’s teeth:

  1. While gummy vitamins may taste great, they are not great for your children’s teeth.  Anything of a gummy retentive texture tends to sticks to (and linger) in the grooves and crevices of the teeth and in between the teeth, which can promote cavities. A good alternative: alternaVites Kids multivitamins.  The melt-in-your-mouth form of these vitamins allows them to go down quickly and not stick to teeth.  Plus, they are sweetened with xylitol which dentists recommend– and helps make them taste great too, so your kids will enjoy taking them!
  2. Juices:  Most parents know to limit sodas for their children, but juices can be a poor choice too, as most tend to be high in sugar (which can lead to tooth decay).  So can sports drinks or any other beverage with added sugar or citric acid.                                                                                                                       

    A good alternative: Tap water (or if your tap doesn’t contain fluoride, then fluoridated water or a fluoride supplement) … be careful of excessive bottled water as it doesn’t contain fluoride. If you still choose to serve juice, stick with juices that state 100% juice on the label with no added sugars.  Serve diluted with water to cut down on sugar content (it’s economical too!).  Try not to give them more than one serving a day, to be consumed in one sitting, preferably with a meal.

  3. Snacking:  As the ADA states, foods that are eaten as part of a meal cause less harm than in-between snacks.  This is because more saliva is released during a meal than during a quick snack, which better helps wash foods from the mouth and helps lessen the effects of acids on the teeth. A good alternative: During snack time, try to give your children cheese, raw veggies, plain yogurt, or a piece of fruit.

  4. Dried Fruit and Granola Bars: These types of snacks are sticky and can linger between a child’s teeth long after the snack is consumed, same with chewy candies.  Since it is harder for saliva to reach in between teeth to act as a natural neutralizer, this can lead to calcium loss and tooth damage. Good alternative:  fresh fruit,  apple sauce, snacks that go down quickly.  If kids are craving sweets and want a special treat, go for a candy bar or chocolate treats since those aren’t sticky and don’t linger in their mouth, or try xylitol lollipops.  Always follow with water.

  5. Brushing Your Teeth too Soon After a Meal.  It’s best to wait an hour after a meal before brushing.    Meals and snacks leave an acid coating on the teeth, especially citrus fruits or soft drinks (especially lemonade) –If you brush too soon, you are just brushing your teeth with the acid, which can lead to tooth erosion. A good alternative: just rinse your mouth with tap water after eating or drinking.  Drink acidic drinks through a straw, which limits the amount of contact the liquid has directly with the teeth.


Things to support healthy teeth:

  1. Limit between-meal snacks.  Each time your teeth are exposed to food or drinks they undergo an acid attack.  Frequent snacking or sipping results in prolonged exposure to acids and increased risk for dental decay.  If you must snack, go for healthy choices, such as Fruits, Veggies, Cheese, or Yogurt.

  2. Sugarless Chewing Gum – look for xylitol. Believe it or not, chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals can help prevent tooth decay. Try Trident Sugar Free Gum or Spry Xylitol Gum.

  3. A Daily Multi – While ideally we would want children to get their nutrients from their diet, we know that in reality, children are picky eaters.  Additionally, parents can’t always prepare or buy healthy food and snacks.  Since nutrients like Calcium, Vit D, and Magnesium, are so important to bone, teeth and muscle health, a daily multi is a great insurance policy to make up for any gaps in their diet. Try alternaVites Kids: Not only does this contain 17 essential nutrients, but it is not made of the gummy retentive texture so common in today’s children’s vitamins which can lead to cavities since they are prone to sticking to teeth.

  4. Proper oral hygiene – There is no substitute for this.  The ADA recommends brushing teeth twice daily for 2 minutes with a fluoride toothpaste and cleaning between teeth with floss or another interdental cleaner once a day.   Visit your child’s dentist regularly for a complete oral exam and professional cleaning. For fluoride Toothpaste, try Tom’s of Maine natural fluoride toothpaste for children or Colgate for Kids. For floss, try Glide Floss or Oral B floss.