During summer, with barbecues, parties, outdoor fun and vacations, most of us turn to cold treats, quick bites and the usual warm weather favorites for meals and snacks. While you have the obvious sugary foods in the mix such (e.g., ice cream and soda) that routinely get pegged as the worst foods for your teeth, there are some other surprising summertime staples that aren’t exactly a tooth’s best friend either. Being Brooklyn pediatric dentists, we tend to notice the amount of sugar in food products because the bacteria in the mouth love sugar, and carbohydrates as a whole. When these mouth monsters eat their carb snacks, they produce acid that attacks the enamel and eventually causes cavities. We’d never tell you to ask the kiddos to steer clear of all of their summer favorites. Instead, moderation and a solid brushing and flossing routine are the keys to healthy, little smiles. So, what foods contain lots of sugar?
- Popsicles and Other Icy Treats – Popsicles, water ice and shaved ice seem pretty innocent since they’re mostly ice but they can be among the foods with added sugar, including high-fructose corn syrup. Thankfully, more brands are making icy treats and popsicles with no added sugar and sweetening them with real fruit instead. This is definitely the better option. While, yes, fruit has natural sugars in it, it’s also full of vitamins and minerals that are good for children and make teeth stronger. Just have kids rinse their mouths out with water or brush after eating to prevent sugar, added or natural, from sticking to the surfaces of their teeth. As an alternative, consider making your own popsicles. Slide a popsicle stick into a piece of watermelon and freeze it for a quick and easy summer treat. Or, mix a little bit of 100% fruit juice, blended fruit and water and freeze it in popsicle molds. Studies, including one published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, found no increase in early childhood caries (cavities) when children drank four to six ounces of 100% fruit juice a day.
- Sports Drinks and Vitamin Water – When it’s 90 degrees out and your kid has been tackling the jungle gym at the playground, it’s tempting to give them a sports drink. Hey, they claim to replenish lost electrolytes and seem healthy. However, sports drinks are one of the worst drinks for your teeth. They’re high in sugar and, usually, citric acid, which makes the tooth’s enamel even more vulnerable to acid attacks. The only people who actually really benefit from sports drinks are marathoners or serious athletes who need to replace the nutrients lost from sweat. A child who eats a balanced diet will be fine drinking water after playing or exercising.
- Iced Tea and Lemonade – Canned and bottled iced tea and lemonade are more drinks with lots of added sugar. In fact, lemonade typically has over 50 grams of sugar! Iced tea isn’t much better. A study found that canned iced tea caused 30 times more damage to the enamel than coffee or brewed tea. Most commercial drinks have no actual lemon in them and, like sports drinks, are acidic. The acid erodes the enamel, while the sugar feeds the bacteria that create plaque. Stick with water or, for a treat, offer unsweetened, decaffeinated iced tea. Black and green tea, though they stain the teeth, contain things called polyphenols and flavonoids that actually hinder the growth of periodontal bacteria and help stop inflammation, making them good for lowering the risk of gum disease.
- BBQ Sauce and Ketchup – When it comes to innocuous foods with added sugar, condiments are up there. You probably don’t give them much thought because you’re only using a little bit here and there but some store-bought barbecue sauces have upwards of 15 grams of sugar in a two tablespoon serving. As for how much sugar in ketchup? It rings in at around four grams of sugar per tablespoon and there aren’t too many kids who limit themselves to a tablespoon. The problem is, they’re just the topping and they are combined with the food itself, which has its own sugar. Whipping up homemade versions or looking for brands without added sugar are good ideas. Or, try to limit the overall sugar content of the meal and make sure kids rinse after eating and brush well when they get home.
- Snack and Nutrition Bars – Packaged cereal bars, granola bars and even nutrition bars are seemingly healthy foods with sugar contents that might surprise you. For example, one PowerBar ProteinPlus Chocolate Brownie bar has 27 grams of sugar! Many of the chewy bars with dried fruits might be a little lower in sugar but they stick to the teeth and the longer a food sits on the teeth, the longer the bacteria have to do their thing. Bars are super convenient to throw in your bag when you head to the beach or the playground. However, this is another instance where making your own is a better bet. Apple slices or celery sticks aren’t just healthy, since they’re fibrous, they act as a natural toothbrush and scrape away plaque as your child eats them. Combine them with a bit of peanut butter (no sugar added, of course) for a dose of protein or some cubes of cheese since cheese helps to put minerals back in the teeth. Nuts and seeds are also foods that are good for kids’ teeth as they’re high in important vitamins and minerals.
It isn’t about banning all the good stuff. It’s more about being mindful of what foods contain lots of sugar and balancing summer treats with low-fat dairy, fresh fruit and vegetables and lean proteins to keep cavities at bay. Combine a healthy, well-rounded diet and brushing and flossing with regular visits to the dentist to ensure your child’s smile stays healthy and bright. Do you live in Brooklyn and need a dental home for your little one? Book an appointment at Bitesize Pediatric Dentistry. At our Williamsburg pediatric dental office, we make visits fun and stress-free for kids and parents alike!