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Foods to Avoid for Great Oral Health in Children

If you have kids, taking care of their teeth is most likely something you think about frequently. Do they have toothpaste? Are they brushing properly without your supervision? Will they have cavities at their next dental exam? It’s a lot to worry about, and they’re all very valid concerns. But what if you knew what foods to avoid to prevent dental cavities once and for all? A new study out of New Zealand aimed to answer just that.

Much like in New Zealand, here in America dental caries (or cavities) are the No. 1 disease plaguing children. In fact, an estimated 15 percent of children have untreated cavities, and those cavities amount to millions of days of missed school each year. But preventing cavities is easier than you think, says dentist Dr. Kelley Mingus of Bend, Oregon.

“When you think about preventing cavities, think of it as a whole system, not just one element, such as brushing and flossing. It goes beyond that,” he says.

Diet is one factor. According to the study by the University of Auckland and Starship Children’s Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand, the main culprits in damaging children’s teeth are sugary drinks, but perhaps surprisingly to some, refined carbohydrates like bread and pasta are dangerous as well.

“Unfortunately, foods like bread and pasta are childhood favorites,” says Mingus, “so giving those up may not be easy, especially if you have a picky eater.”

Mingus says the study suggested healthy swaps for some of kids’ favorite – but not so healthy – foods.

“Look for whole-grain breads and pastas, cheese, and lots of vegetables and fresh fruit, which are packed in vitamins and minerals,” he says.

Mingus says to also avoid juice.

“Fruit is a great trade-off for juice. It’s sweet but doesn’t have the added sugar,” he says.

More culprits include sugary cereals and, of course, candy.

The important thing, according to Mingus, is if your child does consume sugary foods and refined carbohydrates that they maintain excellent oral health to combat the negative effects of these foods.

“The consumption of these foods isn’t a death sentence for your teeth,” he says. “But you need to make sure your oral health is on point. Not just brushing and flossing, but attending your regular annual or biannual dental appointments.”

Another heads up? These rules don’t just apply to kids. Adults need to follow the same oral hygiene protocols and should limit their consumption of these high-risk foods, too.