What you eat plays a fundamental role in your oral health, and is one of the main causes of tooth and gum disease. These pathologies can be found in both adults and children; however, in this article we will concentrate on children and adolescents.
Baby bottle tooth decay
Temporary or milk teeth start erupting at around 6 months of age, although the process starts earlier in some children and later in others. There are cases of babies who are born with one or two milk teeth peeking out of their gums.
It is advisable to prevent babies from regularly falling asleep while breast feeding, given that the mother’s milk contains sugar and can lead to tooth decay, visible as brown stains on the baby’s teeth.
You must also take care to prevent them from regularly falling asleep while drinking milk from a bottle. If you give your baby a bottle of milk whenever they want between mealtimes, you run the risk of causing widespread tooth decay.
If, instead of milk, the bottle were to contain sweet, acidic drinks, such as fruit juice or sugary drinks like soda, the possibility of suffering Baby Bottle tooth decay would increase.
Sugar in food
Today we are well aware that sugary foods can ruin your teeth, particularly in the case of children and adolescents, who generally love eating sweets but aren’t so fond of brushing their teeth.
What to do and healthy tips
Oral bacteria have different functions within the oral cavity ecosystem: they contribute towards immunity, to maintaining the pH or acid-base balance and, simply by existing, prevent your mouth from the attack of harmful infection-causing or pathogenic bacteria, and even from fungal problems.
If you reduce the number of protective bacteria or saprophytes due to using highly aggressive mouthwashes, you may find that you will have problems with your teeth.
If we add an excessive sugar intake to these bacteria, we get acids that attack the enamel, causing demineralisation of the tooth enamel and the gradual appearance of cavities or caries. If this acidity continues, the cavity will grow deeper, reaching the dentine and eventually the nerve, causing pain when chewing, or when eating or drinking something hot or cold.
The longer the sugar is in contact with the bacteria, the more acids it will produce and the greater the likelihood of tooth decay. This is why you should brush your teeth after every meal, as soon after eating as possible. This is because, the longer you wait, the greater the acid production.
Often children and adolescents claim to be tired at night; however, remember that the right time to brush their teeth is immediately after eating and not just before going to bed, as they will be much less likely to do it.
This is the most important brushing time of the day. At night the saliva moves very little in the mouth, meaning that bacteria can more effectively work on leftover food and particularly sweet particles left in the mouth, thereby producing greater amounts of harmful acids.
Sticky foods are more of a problem since they make it more difficult for the saliva or brushing to rid themselves of bacteria.
Children must learn to eat properly at breakfast, lunch and dinner, times when it is easy for them to brush their teeth. If they eat a lot between meals, food will be stuck in their teeth for long periods of time before the next brushing.
Some children who eat lunch at school say that the bathrooms are closed. In this case, one practical solution is to eat sugar-free chewing gum. Although it is no substitute for good brushing, it will do a rather good job of cleaning their teeth.
These are immediate sugars, i.e. you can immediately taste the sweet flavour, but they soon turn into acids. This is the kind of sugar you put in your tea or coffee, and which is found in cakes, in sweets, and in sugary drinks. The last two items on the list are the most dangerous for children and adolescents, who eat or drink them between meals, meaning that they stay on their teeth for long periods, until the next time they brush them.
When a child has a sweet tooth, they must learn to eat sweets only as dessert after their main meals of the day. This means that they can enjoy eating their favourite food, given that they will brush their teeth on leaving the table and the sugar will have caused no problems.
When children and adolescents are outdoors enjoying themselves with their family or friends, they should avoid eating sweets and should be given sugar-free chewing gum or sweets, or popcorn, crisps or savoury snacks in reasonable amounts, it goes without saying.
Carbohydrates and hidden sugars
Although breakfast cereals, bread and biscuits are very healthy foods, if they stay between your teeth for a long time, the enzymes present in the saliva will start digesting them, breaking down the carbohydrates to produce sugar. This can facilitate the appearance of tooth decay, particularly if they contain added sugar, as in the case of breakfast pastries and certain cereals. They should therefore be consumed with moderation between meals.
Beneficial foods for the teeth
These foods strengthen tooth enamel or substitute certain harmful foods.
Foods that protect the teeth
These include pulses such as lentils, chickpeas and beans, meat, fish and dairy products. Milk and its related products, such as cheese, yoghurt and custard, are a good source of fluor, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D, all of which favour calcification and protect the tooth enamel, preventing the appearance of tooth decay.
Foods that substitute harmful foods.
Fresh fruit, rich in fibre and vitamins, can be served instead of sweet desserts. Children can eat them whole, in pieces, in salads, in smoothies, with yoghurt or fresh cheese, with soya desserts… but never with added sugar.
We adults must set an example, teaching children to enjoy eating fruit. You must take care to buy ripe, tasty fruit, since unripe, tasteless, hard or acidic fruit won’t tempt children, who will prefer industrial pastries full of sugar, cholesterol and calories.
Don’t forget that, as well as teaching your children good eating and hygiene habits, you must also take them to the dentist’s once a year to check their teeth for tooth decay, which you can’t always see just by looking.
The Basque Government provides yearly check-ups for children between the ages of 7 and 15 years thanks to its dental programme for children (PADI), in which our surgery participates.