Sweet treats and a healthy smile—can they go hand in hand? Rising awareness of the dangers of sugar has many parents wondering how to please their children’s taste buds without contributing to the formation of plaque and cavities. Here are some simple ways to protect your children’s teeth while pleasing their taste buds with sweet, healthy treats.
The Foundations of a Tooth-Friendly Diet
Before launching into some tooth-friendly replacements for sugar, let’s cover some healthy eating habits that provide the nutrients for teeth that are strong and cavity-free.
Wholefood Vitamins and Minerals
The two most important minerals for strengthening tooth enamel according to the American Dental Association are calcium and phosphorus. Calcium is abundant in foods such as cheese, milk, almonds, and dark leafy green vegetables. Phosphorus is present in meat, eggs, and fish.
To maximize these key minerals and their uptake in the body, it’s best to go for grass-fed, organic animal products (and to ingest milk in its probiotic-rich fermented forms). Nuts and seeds should be soaked overnight in the fridge to reduce anti-nutrients like oxalic acid.
Cod Liver Oil and High-Vitamin Butter Oil
Dr. Weston A. Price—a renowned dentist who studied primitive cultures in the early 1900s—observed that communities that still ate a traditional diet ingested ten times more vitamin A and D than people in the modern world. He also noted that these fat-soluble vitamins, when paired with Vitamin K2, significantly improved the body’s retention and utilization of dietary minerals for strong teeth and bones.
To increase these key vitamins in your family’s diet, Dr. Price and the Weston A. Price Foundation recommend consuming quality fermented cod liver oil and grass-fed butter oil daily (including before and during pregnancy) to prevent many of the most common dental issues in children and adults.
Sweets that Please Your Teeth as Much as Your Taste Buds
In addition to the dietary guidelines set out above, your family can enjoy a number of healthy sweets that won’t harm your teeth or contribute to the development of diabetes later in life.
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” And as it turns out, an apple a day may keep the dentist away, too. Raw, crunchy foods like apples, carrots, celery, and cucumbers can help to dislodge plaque and cleanse your mouth so that bacteria are cleared away instead of settling down and causing cavities. For a tooth-friendly treat that is low in natural sugars, try green apples rather than red. Your body will thank you!
2. Chewing Honey
As one of the most intense natural sweeteners, honey may seem like a surprising ingredient to include in a “tooth-friendly” ingredient list. However, a 2014 study demonstrated that chewing honey can reduce oral bacteria more effectively than antibiotics. It also helps acid levels in the mouth to drop off much more quickly after a meal than either sucrose or sorbitol did under the same conditions.
Stevia is a naturally sweet leaf from South America that is typically ground into a powder and sold in its powdered or crystallized form. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), stevia does not produce lactic acid when ingested, which is one of the main by-products of refined sugar that eats away at your teeth.
A sweetener that is derived from the natural sugar alcohol present in birch fibers, xylitol may be the star of the show when it comes to tooth-happy sweeteners. This powdered substance prevents the acid attack that typically occurs for up to 30 minutes after eating and can reduce acid-forming bacteria by up to 90%.
As if that weren’t enough, this sweetener raises the concentration of amino acids and ammonia in the saliva, increasing the pH of the oral cavity. When the pH of the mouth is above 7, calcium and phosphate salts in your saliva move to the weak areas of tooth enamel and actually begin to repair it!
Cranberries can be eaten fresh or dried and contain polyphenols (just like black tea). A study from the Dentistry Journal indicates that polyphenols may prevent plaque from attaching itself to teeth, lowering the chance of cavities. Be sure to buy cranberries with no added sugar as this tart fruit is often sweetened.
Raisins contain phytochemicals, which may help to kill bacteria in the mouth that cause cavities. These delicious little treats can also help to control some of the bacteria associated with gum disease and are easy to send with your children for a healthy school lunch. As with any dried fruit, consume raisins in moderation as a complement to fresh, raw, and whole foods.
Tooth-Friendly Habits to Develop in Your Family
Complete your family’s tooth-friendly program by rinsing your mouth with water after each meal, brushing everyone’s teeth twice daily, and flossing once a day—preferably after meals containing stringy fibers or red meat.
Visiting the dentist every six months is a great way to check that you and your children are using effective brushing techniques and to catch demineralization in its tracks for a lifetime of strong, happy, and healthy teeth.
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Written by Aaron Smith
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