Tooth enamel is a real superhero and as Brooklyn pediatric dentists, we try to make sure our patients at Bitesize have the strongest enamel around. Not only is enamel the hardest substance in the body, it also protects the teeth from decay, heat and cold and fends off constant acid attacks. Whenever we eat or drink, the bacteria in our mouth go on a feeding frenzy, gobbling up carbohydrates. As they do this, they release acids that mix with our spit and food particles to form plaque.
Plaque keeps on accumulating unless it’s brushed and flossed away. The acids in the plaque erode the enamel over time and leave it vulnerable. Our enamel is pretty much always in a tug of war between demineralization (when it loses minerals due to the bacteria and acids) and remineralization (when things like our spit and fluoride replace the lost minerals).
If you’re wondering how to keep your child’s teeth strong, it’s all about giving the remineralization process a boost and trying to minimize demineralization. How can we do that? Well, awesome oral hygiene habits and a healthy diet can a long way.
While most of the patients and parents who come into our Park Slope and Williamsburg kids’ dentist office know sugary treats like soda and candy weaken enamel and cause cavities, there are other surprising things that can be harmful to kids’ tooth enamel and simple ways to overcome them.
The citric acid found in citrus fruits and drinks is powerful stuff that slowly eats away at the tooth enamel. In large doses, citrus-filled choices are actually among the foods that are bad for kids’ teeth. Commercial fruit juices that have added sugar compound the problem because now you’re exposing the teeth to acid and sugar.
Have your kiddo enjoy citrus in moderation and opt for fresh fruit over sugary juices. Also, since the enamel is temporarily weakened after eating or drinking something acidic, brushing the teeth immediately afterwards can damage the enamel even more. Plan ahead and ask your child to brush prior to that glass of orange juice or wait at least 30 minutes after finishing to break out the toothbrush.
2. Constant Sipping and Snacking
Keeping kid’s teeth strong isn’t just a matter of what they eat and drink, it’s also about how they eat and drink. After a snack or a beverage, the acids from the bacteria stick around in our mouths for a half hour or so. Every sip and bite starts the clock over and increases the length of time the teeth are being exposed to the sugars and the bacteria are feeding.
Frequent snacking and giving little ones a sippy cup with anything but water and letting them carry it around throughout the day can lead to cavities. If your child is going to have soda, juice or a cookie, make sure they finish it in one sitting and then brush or rinse their mouth out after.
Pretty much everything has carbohydrates and sugars in it, including breast milk, formula and cow’s milk and while these are necessary and healthy for babies and toddlers, the same principle we just discussed holds true. Give them the breast or bottle and then wipe down their gums with a damp washcloth or piece of gauze.
Since saliva production slows down during sleep and the sugars won’t get washed away, be sure your tiny tot finishes bottles before dozing off and, again, wipe down their gums after the bottle or middle of the night feeding. Never give them a bottle of formula or milk to sleep with as this can cause cavities, sometimes referred to as baby bottle tooth decay.
3. Chewy, Sticky Foods (We’re looking at you, raisins)
When it comes to how to keep kids’ teeth healthy, after regular brushing and flossing and visits to the dentist, eating a healthy diet tops the list. While dried fruits like raisins or apricots seem like they should be a part of this and they do have nutrients in them, they’re another surprising offender that can have a negative impact on kids’ tooth enamel.
Fruit contains naturally occurring sugars that react with the bacteria in the mouth, creating acid and, in dried form, the fruit tends to cling to the teeth for long periods of time, increasing exposure to the harmful acids.
Fresh, fibrous fruit is a better choice and one of the foods that strengthen kids’ teeth because the high water content washes away the sugars and gets the saliva flowing. Dried fruit isn’t the only sticky food that can be bad for tooth enamel.
Gummy vitamins are also sugary and stick to the teeth, potentially leading to cavities over time. If your kids do eat gummy vitamins or dried fruit here and there, be sure they rinse their mouth out really well with water to get rid of any remnants.
4. Fizzy Drinks
It’s common knowledge that regular soda is terrible for oral health but diet soda, energy drinks, club soda and even sparkling water are also bad for kids’ tooth enamel. Sugar leads to cavities but carbonation isn’t all that much better.
The bubbles in fizzy drinks come from carbon dioxide and, once in the mouth, a chemical reaction occurs and the gases turn into carbonic acid, which erodes the enamel. Many of the drinks also contain citrus, which makes them more acidic and harmful.
5. Not Enough Saliva or Water
Spit is the best friend to a kid’s tooth enamel (well, everyone’s enamel actually). It contains minerals like calcium and phosphate ions that neutralize plaque acids and kick the remineralization process into action, during which the minerals that disappeared during acid attacks are deposited back into the enamel.
Saliva is also great for giving the teeth a bath and washing away food particles. Spit can’t do it all on its own though, which is why water is helpful for cleaning teeth too and, when it contains fluoride, playing a role in remineralization. Drinking enough water is important for stimulating saliva production.
Certain medications, such as antihistamines, dehydration and health issues can cause dry mouth. Also, at night, our saliva flow slows down. To combat this in kids and keep their tooth enamel strong, make sure they drink plenty of water.
Chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes or so after a meal, if they’re old enough, is also amazing for creating more spit and combating plaque and acids. At night, avoid snacks or drinks aside from water after kids brush their teeth and wipe those gums down following nighttime feedings.
There you have it, five sneaky things that can be damaging kids’ tooth enamel. By brushing and flossing as directed, rinsing after meals and snacks, eating a well-rounded diet and visiting the dentist for regular checkups, your child’s enamel will fight off decay. Looking for a pediatric dentist in Williamsburg, Brooklyn or Park Slope?
Schedule an appointment at Bitesize Pediatric Dentistry today by giving us a call at (718) 899-4500 and we’ll partner with you in keeping your kids’ tooth enamel strong.