Research shows that kids with poor oral health are more likely to experience dental pain, leading to missed school days and decreased school performance. While brushing, flossing, and keeping up with your child’s routine dental exams will help avoid this, nutrition also plays a big role!
As a Tarrytown pediatric dental and orthodontic practice, we’ll be covering the basics of diet and children’s oral health. And, since we know the start of the school year can be hectic, we’ll also be sharing some easy school lunch ideas that include foods that are good for kids’ teeth.
Good Oral Health and Diet
The bacteria in the mouth feed on sugars and starches and release acids as they snack. The acids damage the tooth enamel and, eventually, can cause tooth decay.
It’s not that kids have to avoid everything sweet and starchy, but minimizing their intake of sugar and simple carbohydrates will help prevent cavities. This is especially true of foods that stick in the teeth (i.e., gummy candy, crackers, etc.), because they prolong those acid attacks.
So, what should kids eat instead? A healthy diet that includes lean protein, vegetables, fruit, fats, dairy (or dairy alternatives with calcium) and complex carbohydrates is a surefire way to boost children’s oral health.
When kids do have the occasional sweet or starchy treat, serve it as part of a larger meal. The mouth produces more saliva during a meal than it does when snacking. The saliva washes away food debris and neutralizes cavity-causing acids. It’s also a good idea to have kids brush their teeth after, or at least rinse their mouth out really well with water.
5 Essential Vitamins and Minerals for Teeth and Gums
In addition to enjoying notorious cavity causers in moderation and eating a balanced diet, be sure your child is getting adequate amounts of the key minerals and vitamins for teeth and gum health.
Meet these oral health superstars:
Calcium strengthens the teeth, as well as the jawbone, and helps the enamel resist decay. There is a constant push and pull between demineralization and remineralization going on in your child’s mouth. Cavity-causing acids leach minerals from the teeth (demineralization) and then calcium, along with other minerals, replaces those lost minerals (remineralization). When remineralization gains an edge, the risk of cavities decreases.
Sources of calcium: Milk, cheese, yogurt, leafy greens, tofu, beans, seeds and fortified foods like cereal
- Vitamin D
When it comes to vitamins for teeth, vitamin D is a powerful one. It helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus in order to remineralize the teeth and strengthen enamel. Vitamin D also has anti-inflammatory properties, which keeps your child’s gums healthy and may reduce the risk of gum disease.
Sources of vitamin D: Egg yolks, fatty fish (i.e., tuna, salmon, etc.), mushrooms, fortified foods, including milk, soy milk, yogurt, cereal and orange juice, and sunshine
In your body, phosphorus is called phosphate and it’s a big component of the bones and teeth. Phosphorus also helps the body absorb and use calcium and works with calcium and vitamin D to strengthen teeth by rebuilding and maintaining enamel. Not getting enough phosphorus can lead to an increased risk of cavities and breakage.
Sources of phosphorus: Milk, yogurt, cheese, meat, poultry, fish, legumes, beans, cashews, peas, brown rice, potatoes and whole wheat bread
- Vitamin A
Vitamin A is important for maintaining the soft tissues of the mouth, including the gums, producing saliva and healing oral wounds. Research suggests that a vitamin A deficiency can cause enamel defects, gum disease and dry mouth, among other conditions.
Sources of vitamin A: Sweet potatoes, leafy greens, red peppers, carrots, mango, cantaloupe, cheese, meat, fish and eggs
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C plays a role in the maintenance of the jawbone and teeth. It’s also excellent for periodontal (gum) health. It keeps the gums, ligaments and connective tissues that hold the teeth in place in top-notch shape. VItamin C helps repair oral soft tissues, promotes healing and prevents bleeding gums, too.
Sources of vitamin C: Citrus fruits, cantaloupe, kiwi, mango, papaya, berries, watermelon, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, and green and red peppers
These are the most notable vitamins and minerals for teeth and gum health. But, eating a well-rounded diet is vital, because other nutrients like iron, potassium and B vitamins also support children’s oral health.
Smile-Friendly School Lunch Ideas
Now that you have an overview of nutrition and oral health, here are some school lunch ideas that will give your child their daily dose of smile-strengthening vitamins and minerals. And, with a few simple swaps, these all make for great fast lunches for kids with braces too.
- Turkey and Veggie Rollup – Roll up sliced peppers, shredded carrots, sliced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, shredded turkey (or chicken) and cheese drizzled with your child’s favorite salad dressing in a whole wheat or spinach tortilla. Then cut it into sections. Serve with a side of blueberries.
Make it braces-friendly: No changes necessary! Just be sure to finely shred the carrots.
- Tofu Salad Sandwich – If you’re looking for meal prep ideas for school lunches, this one is perfect. Make a big batch of tofu salad on Sunday and divvy it up into portions for the week.
Drain a block of tofu and cut it into cubes. For extra flavor, you can let the tofu sit for a few hours in your favorite marinade. After marinating it, arrange the cubes on a sheet pan and bake them at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, flipping over halfway through.
Let the tofu cool and then mix it in a large bowl with mayonnaise (you can also use Greek yogurt or vegenaise), a touch of dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste, diced celery, chopped walnuts and sliced purple grapes. Serve it on whole wheat bread with a side of cherry tomatoes.
Make it braces-friendly: Leave out the chopped walnuts.
- Healthy Snack Medley – Think outside of the sandwich by making lunch out of different small bites. This is also another school lunch you can meal prep ahead of time, and it’s ideal for a bento box. Include different color pepper slices, carrot sticks and cucumbers with hummus for dipping, string cheese, an apple and whole grain pretzels.
Make it braces-friendly: Skip the carrots, cut the apple into thin slices and, if the pretzels are really hard, swap them out for snap pea crisps.
- Bean and Rice Bowl – Prep ahead of time and put all of the ingredients together before school. Add brown rice, black beans, corn, diced tomatoes, avocado, shredded lettuce, shredded cheese and any other taco or burrito toppings your child likes. Put dressing, sauce and/or sour cream in a separate container so they can pour it on when it’s time to eat.
Make it braces-friendly: No swaps needed!
- DIY Pizza Lunchable – For a healthier version of the ever-popular pizza lunchable (and a little extra enamel-strengthening phosphorus), take the DIY route. For the crust, use whole wheat sandwich thins or a whole wheat pita. In separate small containers, put pizza sauce, shredded cheese and toppings. Serve with a side of fresh fruit for Vitamin C.
Make it braces-friendly: If you go with a firm fruit, cut it into bite-size pieces.
Schedule a Kids’ Dental Exam in Tarrytown, NY
Building lunches around healthy foods that are good for teeth will help your child start the school year off on a positive note.
Keep the cavity prevention going by scheduling a dental exam and cleaning at 914 Smiles. Our Tarrytown pediatric dentist, Dr. Reshma Kumar, will work with you to create a personalized preventative care plan, so your child can reap the benefits of A+ oral health.