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Are You Feeding Your Kids Tooth-Friendly Foods?

Many parents try to get their children to eat snacks and lunches that are good for their bodies — including their teeth. But it isn't always easy. Many kids crave the snacks they see their friends eating and the sugary or starchy junk food they see at the grocery store and on TV commercials. These foods can spell disaster for good dental health.

So what's a parent to do?

Experts agree that a child needs foods from all the major food groups in order to grow properly and stay healthy. When starches and sugars dominate a child's diet, the risk of tooth decay goes way up. That's because some bacteria in the mouth use these starches and sugars as food to produce acid. The acid is strong enough to dissolve tooth enamel and cause decay.

To help children make sensible food choices, here's what parents can do:

Recognize foods that are "high risk" for tooth decay. Most people know that sweets such as cookies, candy and cake are poor snack choices for healthy teeth. However, some foods aren't so obvious. Snacks that stick to teeth can cause as much tooth decay as candy and cookies. These foods include some cereals, chips, crackers and even dried fruits.

Limit the number of snacks a day. Remember that each time you give your child a meal or a snack, you are also giving a "snack" to the cavity-causing bacteria in your child's mouth. The more snacks, the more times the bacteria can attack your child's teeth. It's important to make sure your child maintains a healthy diet that includes set mealtimes and snacks. But continuous snacking is a risk for cavities.

Restrict high-sugar foods to set mealtimes. We all enjoy a sweet treat now and then. But having your child eat it as part of a regular meal, rather than by itself as a snack, can limit the risk of tooth decay.

Choose milk or water, instead of sugary drinks or juice. What children drink is just as important as what they eat. Most juices and sodas are loaded with sugar. Sipping on fruit juice, sodas, or sport drinks keeps sugars washing over the teeth. This can contribute to tooth decay. Choosing milk or water will help ensure a healthy mouth and body for your child.

Keep only nutritious foods in the house. Offer lots of fruits and vegetables. Serve cheese as part of lunch or a snack. It is often other family members who bring unhealthy snacks and foods into the home. Your children are more likely to eat healthy foods if everyone in the household eats that way.

Remember that a nutritious diet is just one way of preventing tooth decay. Be sure that your child also brushes twice a day with a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Your child also needs to have a "dental home," where he or she can have regular checkups by the dentist.

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