If you’ve ever planted a garden, you know how much work goes into it. You read, plan and sketch. You measure the rows, plant the seeds—and then you wait. One day, you see that miraculous little green sprout appears. Although it’s what you hoped would happen all along, it’s still thrilling to think that from a few seeds deposited into the earth, you have a living, growing thing.
Seeds have one job, and that’s to grow. If you have kids, you know that the same thing applies. Kids are going to grow, and the best we can do is help them along the way—all of them, including their teeth. Those teeth grow without doing a thing. They just sprout up, causing lots of trouble while they are at it—but that’s for another article.
There are long lists of what not to let your children eat/watch/read/play. If you’re a research person, you may have read every book and scholarly article on how to raise your children. That will serve you very well until, of course, that child is born. You may understand that they should never watch TV, eat candy, or use a pacifier. You may envision them ending each day by telling you how much they love you or thanking you profusely during their Olympic interview/Presidential inauguration/Oscar speech.
As a parent, I won’t mention how well that plan is going. But, this much I know—there is one thing that applies equally to kids and gardens: It is a lot more fun and productive to focus on what you plant than what you pull. Weeds are no fun to think about. Focus on the good stuff. The same stuff counts for kids, even their teeth. Candy is a part of life, and ice cream is one of the very best parts of life. Let’s not focus on avoiding those things, let’s focus on what we should focus on. What grows good teeth? Here you go:
Clean teeth are happy teeth, and water keeps things clean. Luckily you don’t need your children to swish soap three times a day. Just make sure they are getting plenty of good ole water. This rinses away those pesky goodies that everyone enjoys from time to time. Water also helps produce more saliva, which helps keep things nice and clean. Is it a challenge to get your child to drink water? Try fun cups and water bottles. How about a water family challenge? Try setting a large bottle of water on the counter, and have your child drink out of it regularly, with the goal to finish it by the end of the day. And yes, you can even use a sticker chart for this one. Drinking water is good for so many things, no just teeth. So, drink up!
Water might be an easy sell, but once you get that under your belt you can move on to bigger, better, and crunchier things. Raw vegetables make your kids’ teeth work a little bit, and as they chew, they are cleaning the teeth. Think of carrots as an edible toothbrush! This doesn’t have to be as hard as you might think. Don’t worry. Try out some fun dip recipes and make a veggie tray a part of lunch and dinner. And think outside of the carrot stick box! Sugar snap peas, cucumbers, and bell peppers are bright, colorful, and delicious. Start small and give the kids time to give each new veggie a chance. Seeds take time to grow, and kids take time to like vegetables.
Vitamin C Foods
Colors are our friends when it comes to healthy bodies and teeth. All those orange foods have lots of Vitamin C inside that fights cavity-creating bacteria. Try oven-baked sweet potato fries, kiwis, and strawberries. Some Vitamin C foods, however, also pack a punch of acid, which won’t do your child’s teeth any favors, so keep an eye on that, but don’t stress over it. Just serve up a rainbow of foods as much as possible.
Real Food. Real Minerals.
The more you can help your child eat food that doesn’t involve opening a box, the better. Meat, whole grains, potatoes, eggs—all that good stuff—it helps those teeth grow. Real food is full of real vitamins that reduce acid and fight bacteria. Do not worry about hitting a magical goal number, just try to focus on serving as much real food as possible and let that garden grow. Nuts and seeds are another wonderful and real source of teeth-strengthening good stuff. They have juicy fatty acids in them that will coat your child’s teeth and help protect them and are chock full of minerals and goodness. Pack a trail mix for that hike and include some nuts with those chocolate chips.
This one can stir some debate. But, in case you haven’t noticed, the goal of this article is to NOT stress you out about your child’s teeth. Dairy has some wonderful attributes for teeth. It is chock full of good vitamins and minerals. It also promotes saliva production, which is the washing machine of the mouth. If dairy doesn’t sit well with your child’s stomach, no worries. There are lots of other ways to get the vitamins and minerals that milk offers, and there is a way to spin that saliva washing machine that your kids are going to love. Wait for it. . .
Sugarless Chewing Gum
Yes, let your kids chew gum! Just please don’t let them put it under their desks. That is disgusting. Sugar-free gum helps rinse the mouth and pull food out of the nooks and crannies that bacteria likes to hide in. Just make sure it is sugar-free, they don’t swallow it, and they keep their lips closed while they chew. That last one will matter when they start dating, trust me.
The first garden I planted yielded quite a bounty–Ok, most of it was zucchini, but I was very happy with my first efforts. And when I look at pictures of that garden I see work, beauty, fun, zucchini bread, flowers, and lots of joy. I don’t notice the weeds at all. I focus on what I planted. Teeth grow the same way. Focus on the good. Try as often as you can to get these foods (and water!!!) in front of your children, and munch along with them while you are at it.
Gardens grow differently depending on where you live. Weather, sun, and soil all change. Luckily, teeth grow pretty much the same wherever you might be. Just focus on the good stuff. As your Weber County family dentist, my staff and I will cheer you on, pat you on the back, and do what we’re trained to do to help you keep your kids’ teeth healthy and thriving.