Healthy mouths for the whole family

By Jack N' Jill

This article concentrates on how to keep those pearly whites bright and healthy! I will discuss the hows and whys of tooth decay, as well some techniques to help you avoid the pitfalls.

We all know that eating foods with high sugar content will feed the normal bacteria in our mouth and allow it to grow. Like all of us, these microbes go to the toilet, but it’s the acid that they release which causes our teeth to become decayed. As dentists, we are especially interested in the in-between meals – snacks and drinks, because these can often be high in sugar or have unfavourable pH (more to follow!).

So what is a snack?

Generally speaking, a snack is food or drink outside of our normal eating routine. Most adults eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. A muffin is good example of a common snack which has the potential to promote tooth decay – especially because people rarely brush their teeth after snacks. Many people don’t realise that even the sugar in their coffee can contribute to decay.

For a growing child, they will probably need 5 meals a day – breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. That means there are more opportunities for decay if their meals and snacks are foods and drinks which can contribute to tooth decay. It’s important to remember that whilst fruit is a healthy snack, it is also high in sugar – don’t over do it!

What about keeping our mouths free of harmful germs?

For kids, careful brushing twice a day (2 minutes each time) is great. Introduce floss when appropriate (talk to your dentist about this).

For parents – brush morning and night and floss daily. Daily use of a mouthwash is also helpful – avoid mouthwashes containing alcohol.

Of course, regular trips to the dentist are ideal - every 6 months.

Special hint: “sugar free” does not necessarily mean that it’s good for your teeth! Check the acid content – most “low” or “no sugar” sports drinks and soft drinks are made to taste nice by lowering the pH – this is bad for your teeth, because it means they contain more acid, which erodes tooth enamel.

Coke has a pH around 2.6, Gatorade is 3.0 – to give you an idea of what this means, the acid in your car battery is 2.2!  Most "low sugar" and "no sugar" soft and sports drinks will dissolve a tooth in a glass in one night!

When snacking, one of the simplest improvements you can make is to drink water! “Boring” some may say – perhaps, but clean water is a fundamental cornerstone for the health of our bodies (and mouths). Water also often quenches thirst much more adequately than other drinks.

Keep the sugar down in all meals, but especially in the snacking times. You’ll find sugar content information on the labels of packaged foods. It’s even better to avoid the snacks all together – make sure your breakfast fills you up until lunch and your lunch fills you up until dinner.

Encourage your kids to care for their teeth – remember, they love doing what you, their parents, love doing. If they see you brushing, they will want to brush. If they see you flossing – then they will want to floss. Make a game of it.  Get some toothpaste flavours that excite them. As you share the experience and provide positive reinforcement, you will find that they will happily be brushing all the time. Kids love getting a “well done!” from mum and dad.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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