Archive for January, 2014

Teeth Healthy Snacks for Kids

Monday, January 6th, 2014

By Dr. Andrea Beltzer

Happy carrot chomping girl

Feeding my kids isn’t always easy.  As parents, we are constantly bombarded with information about what is healthy and what is potentially harmful for our children’s little bodies.  As a parent, I take these decisions very seriously knowing that the choices I make for my kids now will likely impact the choices they will make for themselves when they are older.

I have two children, Lucy who is five and Charlie who is two.  They couldn’t be more different in their eating preferences and habits.  Lucy has a major sweet tooth.  We were recently at her friend’s birthday party at OaksPark.  There were lots of treats being served, including lemonade, fruit punch, cotton candy, chocolate cupcakes, and cups of ice cream.  The kids were sitting at a long picnic table, and the adults were chatting at another table.  It was crowded, and I wasn’t really keeping a close eye on what Lucy was choosing to eat at the other table.  As the kids’ table emptied out, Lucy was still sitting there finishing her chocolate cupcake after having a cup of lemonade, most of her cotton candy and the cup of ice cream.  Most of the other kids had abandoned their treats half-eaten, but not Lucy.  This was her chance, and she was going to consume as much sugar as possible in one sitting, since I wasn’t right there to monitor what she was eating.  I went over to her, and we had a little conversation about making good choices, and how eating all of those treats so quickly was probably going to make her feel a little sick later on.   Then I proceeded to try to wipe off all of the gooey chocolate and sticky cotton candy that was all over her face and hands and have her drink a cup of water to try and neutralize some of the acid that was being produced by those sugar-loving bacteria in her mouth.  Some of the parents who were standing around us chuckled with me knowing that I am a pediatric dentist, and it’s my kid who is the last one sitting at that picnic table trying to devour every last gram of sugar that she can.  Parenting fail?  No, not really.  I was more amused by the situation than embarrassed.  I know that what really matters in the long run is the every day choices that we make, not the very occasional big treat that sometimes happens during special occasions and holidays.

Charlie, my two-year old, is the exact opposite of Lucy in many ways, including his eating preferences.  He enjoys something sweet here and there, but will typically have a few licks of a popsicle after dinner in the summertime, and then decide he’d rather get down and play instead of finishing his treat.  My challenge with him is that he’s a grazer.  He is two years old and easily distracted, so unless he is starving, mealtime can take a very long time, and sometimes can result in him not eating much at all.  As a result, he likes to snack or “graze” in between meals.  His top choice of snack would be crackers or chips, and he could graze on chips and crackers all day long if we let him.  We know though that a diet of chips and crackers is not good for his body or his teeth!

Many parents are surprised to learn that even snacks like crackers can contribute to tooth decay.  Any snack that is rich in carbohydrates can lead to tooth decay, even it’s not necessarily considered a “sugary” snack. This is particularly true for kids that tend to graze all day long on carbohydrate-rich snacks, including crackers, chips, cereal bars, fruit snacks, raisins and dried fruits.  Studies have shown that it is not only the quantity of sugar consumed that can lead to decay, but it is also the frequency with which the sugars are consumed.  It is much worse for a child to sip on juice or snack on crackers if they are sipping or snacking over a long period of time, than if they were to have a few ounces of juice with their breakfast.  I’ve alluded to the role that bacteria play in tooth decay.  We all have bacteria in our mouth and some of these bacteria are responsible for contributing to decay.  The bacteria consume the sugars that we consume, and then produce acid which breaks down tooth enamel causing cavities.  If the bacteria are fed all day long by those who graze on carbohydrates throughout the day, they are constantly producing acid, and the mouth remains at an acidic pH for long periods of time which results in tooth decay.  Preventing your children from grazing throughout the day on carbohydrate-rich snacks is important for the health of their teeth.

Limiting juices, flavored milks, and other sweetened beverages, as well as encouraging your children to drink a lot of water in between meals can go a long way to prevent cavities.  Chewy snacks that are high in sugar, such as fruit snacks, raisins and dried fruits should be avoided in general, but especially for children with deep grooves on their molars.  These snacks really stick to teeth and are hard to remove from teeth even with good tooth brushing.

I have discussed a lot of things to avoid, so now I will talk about some of my kids’ favorite “teeth-healthy” snacks.  My kids love avocado, and that makes a great snack all on its own or sliced lengthwise with sliced turkey or ham rolled around it.  If your child is old enough and doesn’t have any nut allergies, nuts are a great snack food too.  My kids love almonds and cashews.  Whole fruits (not dried) and veggies are great.  My kids really started taking more of an interest and were more adventurous with trying different fruits and veggies when we planted a vegetable garden.  They love picking strawberries, cherry tomatoes and yanking carrots from the ground in their own backyard!  Other favorite fruits and veggies in our home are celery sticks with cream cheese, apple slices, Satsuma oranges, and carrot sticks.  Bananas are always a good portable snack when you are on the go.  They are nutritious and filling.  For kids that can tolerate dairy, cheese sticks are another easy “tooth-healthy” snack.  My kids also really love hummus, and almost any veggie tastes good dipped in a little hummus.  Costco sells boxes with individual servings of hummus that are very convenient for snacking.  Olives are popular in my house, not only because you can have fun putting them on your fingers but because they taste good too.  I also try to ask Lucy for ideas when I think she is getting bored with our usual lunches and snacks.  She often sees her friends at school eating things that I would never think to pack for her!  One of her school friends often enjoys red peppers stuffed with tuna salad for her lunch.  I would never think that a 5-year-old would enjoy something like that, but Lucy was interested in that because she saw her friend eating it.  Now she loves red bell beppers!  For some reason, kids always think their friends’ lunches look better than their own, so ask your kids what their friends are eating, and if they are interested in trying some new things!  You might just be surprised at what your kids will eat!

 

090725PTTBBELTZNERA11Dr. Andrea Beltzner received her certificate in Pediatric Dentistry from the University of Connecticut in 2007, and became board-certified in the specialty of Pediatric Dentistry in April 2008.  Along with her husband, adorable children and  two adorable dogs, Dr. Beltzner lives and works in Portland, Oregon. Passionate about helping underserved children receive the dental care they so desperately need, Dr. Beltzner volunteers regularly at Creston Children’s Dental Clinic, on the Tooth Taxi, at the annual Children’s Health Fair along with being a co-lead for the pediatric department at Oregon Mission of Mercy, and a volunteer on the Emanuel craniofacial team.