The winter holidays are renowned for irresistibly tempting sweets, but that doesn’t mean you and your family have to end up with a lots of new decay by the time the Easter Bunny arrives.
Tooth decay is a serious health issue to be sure. What may surprise you is that tooth decay is the most common chronic infectious childhood disease in this country. It’s classified as an infectious disease because it’s actually caused by bacteria that live naturally in the mouth. When kids eat sugary foods or drinks, these bacteria feed on the sugar (it’s irresistible to them, too) then expel damaging acids. The acids begin immediately to eat away at tooth enamel, eventually causing it to decay. Adding insult to injury, these same bacteria love breads, crackers, pasta, pretzels – starchy snacks that break down into sugar as we chew them.—and can cause cavities just as efficiently as sugary snacks. Suddenly that luscious holiday buffet begins to look like a nutritional minefield for you and your kids.
So much for the bad news. The good tidings are that tooth decay is largely preventable, even during the holiday season. Because we are all so busy with festivities, friends, family and an abundance of food, it’s the time of year that we parents tend to relax routines: kids often stay up later and eat more sweets and snacks than usual. But enjoying the holidays doesn’t have to be unhealthy for your family’s teeth. Allow me to introduce you to a few simple but savvy ideas for keeping kid’s teeth healthy and strong without raining on the fun.
Eat Dessert First
What? Well, wait for the entrée, anyway. Let kids grab a cookie or slice of pie and eat it with the main course, rather than at the end. That may seem an invitation to disaster, but mixing in sweets with the veggies and meats and such of a balanced meal provides nutrients that neutralize sugar acids produced by desserts. Chewing vegetables and meats will also help sweep away sugar that otherwise sets a nice table for resident bacteria.
Head off Serial Snacking with Healthy Secret Weapons
Fact: snacking on sweets throughout the day or at an extended holiday party allows damaging acids to form every time a child eats a sugary snack. Worse, the acids remain in the mouth for at least 20 minutes afterwards. Keep in mind that the amount of sugar your child eats is not as harmful as the amount of time it remains in her mouth (think candy canes) and the number of times a day she eats it.
Ideally, of course, children should have no more than three snacks in the course of each day. We can safely assume that holiday festivities are not ideal for setting snacking limits. But you might get away with alternating sugary snacks with healthful ones. Have on hand (or bring along a stash) of cheeses such as aged cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella sticks and Monterey jack. Cheese is not only a popular snack, it’s also healthy, clearing the mouth of food and neutralizingacids. You can also pair a favorite dip with carrot sticks or other raw veggies instead of crackers or breads.
Ixnay the Ugarsay Rinksday
From eggnog to hot chocolate, it seems like there is no end to sugary drinks during the holidays. Try to eliminate carbonated drinks if at all possible, since they erode teeth even faster than non-carbonated, sweetened drinks. For younger kids, out of sight usually means out of mind. Luckily, you don’t have to limit all sugary drinks –what would Christmas be without hot chocolate or spiced cider? Instead, encourage kids to start a habit of rinsing with water after those treats. Water displaces sugar acids quickly and efficiently.
Fill Stockings with Some HealthyTreats
Then there’s the grand tradition of stuffing stockings with habit-forming chocolate, all-day suckers, chewy caramels, and other insidious yummies. In fact, a couple of sweet treats are fine in the stocking, but you can also use the opportunity to drop in pocket-sized packs of xylitol mints or sugarless gum. Later in the festivities kids (or parents) can alternate xylitol sweets with sugar snacks to neutralize acid and clear the mouth. You could also stash a cool toothbrush and some new and tasty toothpaste in the stocking to give kids a fresh outlook on brushing
While you have their attention, try to reinforce that tried-and-true regimen of brushing and flossing. Two minutes of morning brushing helps gird kids’ teeth for the sugar battles ahead, while two minutes of pre-bed brushing dials down potential damage from the day. A minute of flossing clears odor and decay-causing food particles wedged between teeth. And try to make brushing a quiet-time ritual. Reserving a few minutes more to talk teeth will provide home-grown family-time for child and parent alike.
Wishing you all the best for 2015!