When kids sit in my chair for their six month check up I always start off the appointment by first discussing their cleaning habits and nutrition. Most children are well aware of what is healthy and what isn’t. However, they don’t know why, especially how it effects their teeth. But that is ok! Education is just as much a part of my job as plaque scraping.
I have learned that just telling kids that sugar is bad doesn’t really help. I have to paint them a picture, an image that is not easily forgotten. And it goes something like this…
“Do you know what germs and bacteria are? You know, those itsy, bitsy, bugs that make you sick? Yep, those are bacteria! Well, did you know that they are alive? If you put them under a microscope you can see them crawling all over the place. There are good bacteria and bad bacteria and they are everywhere, even in your mouth. But, good or bad, they have to eat to stay alive. Guess what they like to eat? No, not your teeth. They love to eat something that you also love – SUGAR!
“And guess what happens after they eat the sugar” (this is usually where I receive a confused and worried look). “Well, just like every living creature on the planet, after it eats it has to go to the bathroom!” (This is always followed by a disgusted face and a loud “Ewww!” Which makes me happy. Every time.
“The bacteria poo is a very sticky substance known as plaque. It is like acid and can create holes in your teeth if it isn’t cleaned off. So, that is why you have to clean your teeth well, twice a day.”
Since children aren’t familiar with the term “waste product” and I always try to speak in a way that resonates with them, telling them that plaque is bacteria poo definitely gets that lasting image in their head that I’m going for. It makes me even happier when they come back 6 months later and have not only remembered my crazy story, but actually have cleaner teeth. Oh, how my tooth fairy heart soars.
Telling some children why will sometimes help motivate them to do an action since they now have understanding. Our goal is to get your kids brushing and make it a lasting habit.
What can you do for that child who refuses to brush properly?
Apart from being consistent, leading by example, and helping them form the habit, there is something else you can do. Help them cut back on the amount of plaque that accumulates in their mouth.
While all foods have at least small amounts of sugar in them, there are certain things that can create a worse environment.
For instance, have you ever noticed that at the end of a day spent eating sugary foods (think of a birthday party) you seem to have “fuzzier” teeth than normal and a strong desire to brush. Ok, maybe the strong desire to brush just effects a crazy dental hygienist like me, regardless, your teeth have accumulated more plaque on a day of eating a lot of sugar.
So, let’s discuss the foods that make your oral health worse.
Foods and Beverages that Contribute to Poor Oral Health
The more often you eat, and the longer foods are in your mouth, the more potential damage to your teeth can occur. You can actually cause more damage by eating from a large bag of M&M’s throughout the day than eating the same size bag in one sitting. That doesn’t mean eat the whole bag! It means your mouth needs some time to recover and return to the original, healthy pH that prevents decay. Some foods, in particular, are more likely to cause oral health problems than others. Therefore, practice moderation if and when you or your child consume the following foods:
Carbohydrates: Refined carbohydrate-laden foods (chips, bread, pasta, crackers, etc.) can be as harsh on your teeth as candy. Carbs are broken down by the body into a type of sugar called glucose. Some carbs are broken down right in the mouth and will linger on your teeth just as sugar from candy.
Chewy, sticky foods: Raisins, gummy vitamins, granola bars, jellybeans, and honey stick to teeth, making it hard for saliva to wash away their sugar.
Sugary sweets: Cookies, cakes, muffins, or other sweet treats contain a high amount of sugar.
Candy and gum: Eating candy and chewing regular sugar sweetened gum are harmful to your teeth. As you eat, your saliva mixes with the sugars and remain in your mouth for a long period of time. There are many types of gums now that have Xylitol as a sweetener which helps prevent decay.
Carbonated soft drinks: Regular soda contains a high amount of sugar. Both regular and diet sodas also contain phosphorous and carbonation that wear away tooth enamel.
Fruit and vegetable juices: Fruit and vegetable juices tend to be high in sugar and very acidic and can damage tooth enamel. Damaged enamel is more easily effected by sugar and plaque left on teeth.
Sports drinks: Sports drinks, which I discussed in a previous post HERE, can be high in sugar and highly acidc, causing decay.
Acidic foods and beverages: Acids, which can cause dental erosion, are found in numerous foods and drinks. These acids include:
- Phosphoric acid, which is found in soft drinks
- Citric and malic acids, which are found in fruits such as lemons and oranges
- Lactic acid, which can be found in fermented products, such as yogurt
- Tartaric acid, which is found in grapes and wines
So, it is unlikely that you will just cut all of these right out of you and your families diet. And many of these things aren’t things that should be cut out of your diet. However, making sure that they are consumed in moderation will help tremendously. Also, increasing water intake daily, and specifically while eating these food items will help cut back on plaque build up.
Remember to always honestly discuss diet with your childs dental hygienist/dentist. Knowing what they are consuming can help us treat them properly!