Snacking During A Pandemic: Choosing Healthy Snacks And Beverages For Your Child’s Teeth When Stuck At Home

Do you catch yourself, or your kids, snacking more than usual these days? Have you noticed your grocery bill increasing because of how much time is being spent at home? I don’t know about you, but the pantry in our home has been housing more snacks lately than I would like to admit. I took a minute to reflect this week and quickly noticed how many times a day my family craves a snack and how often I hear the pantry door open. So, what better time than during a stay-at-home-pandemic to really look at what we are feeding our kids and how often.

According to the American Dental Association, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children. Fortunately, it is preventable!

While brushing and flossing are important parts of maintaining good oral hygiene, other factors play a role in preventing cavities — DIET and FREQUENCY!  Let me explain this process...

Our mouths harbor lots of good and bad bacteria. To simplify this for kids, we call the bad bacteria “sugar bugs”. When these sugar bugs interact with foods high in sugar and starch, a film of plaque forms on the tooth and begins to attack the outer enamel layer. Snacking on foods or liquids that contain high amounts of sugar and starch then creates an acidic environment in the mouth. The acidic environment will cause the enamel to continue to weaken...In other words, the more snacking, the longer the acidic environment lasts and plaque continues to attack; all of which leads to enamel demineralization and cavity formation.

The incredibly talented @sll.stories has created a visual of this specific process to help you explain the importance of choosing healthy snacks with your kids. 

When choosing snacks for your kids, vitamins and minerals are important factors to consider for maintaining healthy teeth and gums. But what does that really mean and how do you know what to look for when choosing snacks that will benefit your child’s teeth? Well, let’s talk about it! These specific vitamins and minerals listed below are exceptionally good for developing teeth and maintaining a healthy smile. 

5 Essential Vitamins and Minerals for your Child’s Teeth:

  • Calcium 
When I think of calcium, my first thought is DAIRY. But many green, leafy vegetables, almonds, and beans contain calcium as well.  According to the National Institute of Health, calcium is one of the best minerals to help strengthen enamel. That means a diet that includes appropriate amounts of calcium helps keep the outer layer of your teeth STRONG. 
Strong enamel = greater resistance to cavities. 
Snacks high in calcium:
    • DAIRY products: cheese, yogurt, milk
    • Green, leafy vegetables: broccoli, bok choy, collards, kale (try steaming, sauteing, or even roasting for a potato chip substitute!)
    • Nuts like almonds, brazil nuts, or sunflower seeds  
  • Phosphorus
Phosphorus is a vitamin found primarily in bones and teeth that helps support calcium, and protects and rebuilds enamel. 
Foods that are high in calcium are often times high in phosphorus as well, especially dairy products. 
Snacks high in phosphorus
    • Eggs (try them boiled for a snack)
    • DAIRY products: cheese, yogurt, milk
    • Protein-rich meats (poultry, fish)
    CHEESE is one of the best snacks for children because of its anti-cariogenic properties. Cheese stimulates saliva and buffers acidic pH levels, meaning it fights plaque that contributes to cavities. 
    • Vitamin D
    Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus. According to an article published in 2020 on Vitamin D deficiency and oral health, deficiencies in Vitamin D can have a lasting effect on your child’s teeth. Severe deficiencies can lead to defective tooth mineralization possibly leading to enamel and dentin defects and greater risks for cavities. 
    Snacks high in vitamin D:
      • Salmon
      • Look for fortified vitamin D dairy and cereal products 
      • SUNSHINE - encourage eating snacks outside on a sunny day
    • Vitamin A
    Vitamin A helps keep gums healthy and saliva flowing. Most fruits and vegetables that contain higher amounts of vitamin A are ORANGE. This can help you and your kids remember to pick fun colored snacks that also are great for their teeth!
    Snacks high in vitamin A:
      • Carrots
      • Sweet potatoes
      • Bell pepper slices
    • Vitamin C
    Vitamin C helps keep teeth and gums healthy by keeping the gum connective tissues strong. When this tissue is strong around the teeth, there is less chance for gingivitis, or bleeding gums. 
     Snacks high in vitamin C:
      • Citrus fruits: pineapple, oranges, cantaloupe, grapefruit
      • Berries, mango, kiwi
      • Apples and bananas
      • Bell pepper slices
      Many of these snacks overlap in the vitamins and minerals they offer, meaning they are excellent choices to add to your child’s diet. But, as a mom I also realize as easy as it is to say a healthy diet is a well-balanced diet, the actuality and implementation of this is far less than easy. We live in a world full of convenient snack options and as soon as one hits the shelf, you see an advertisement for something new and improved with eye-catching brands. 

      * But it is important to note that starches also break down into sugars,and should be limited in your child’s diet. 

        Snacks higher in sugar and starch content include:

      • Processed foods such as crackers, potato chips, cookies
      • Dried fruit
      • Sticky granola bars
      • Gummy candies
      • Soda and fruit juice

      Removing snack options that have sugars and starchy ingredients completely from your child’s diet is also not realistic... Instead, these snack options should be limited and given at scheduled times during the day, such as during a meal.

      When we eat larger meals, we produce more saliva. Saliva is a natural way of cleaning our teeth and the more we produce, the better chance of food not sitting on the teeth and increasing the risk of cavities.

      Bonus point if you remember which vitamin helps produce saliva…(vitamin A!).

      This is where snacking throughout the day versus having a dedicated snack time are two very important, and different, concepts. If your child is craving something sweet or starchy, schedule this snack and have them sit at a table to eat the chosen food and complete the snack with a glass of water or give the snack with a meal as a special treat.

      avoid sugary drinks to protect your kids oral health

      Beverages are also part of snacking and should not be forgotten!

      It is important to be aware of the beverages you are providing your child with during the day. Encourage water throughout the day and with snacks. Offer milk with meals. While milk contains many beneficial vitamins and minerals, it also contains sugars. If your child sips on milk throughout the day or takes it to bed, the sugars will rest on the teeth and can create a plaque attack. 

      Fruit juices should also be limited because they contain high amounts of sugar, so it is important to reduce the exposure and frequency to avoid the plaque attack it can also have on your child’s teeth. The recommended amount of juice depends on your child’s age beginning after the age of 1.  

      • Children 1-3 year old should have no more than 4 ounces of juice daily
      • Children 4-6 year old should have no more than 6 ounces of juice daily
      • Children over 7 year old should have no more than 8 ounces of juice daily

      Soda, energy drinks (e.g., Gatorade), and other sweetened beverages should be monitored and given on special occasions. Sipping on these liquids can quickly cause cavities or even acid erosion on teeth. 

      Grin’s orange, natural toothpaste can help encourage adding clementines into your child’s diet

      If you notice your child going for the sticky, sugary, processed snacks and you are having a hard time motivating them to choose different options, incorporate an extra round of brushing and flossing into their routine to help balance the plaque attacks. Choosing Grin Natural oral health products can help fight decay. Maybe Grin’s orange, natural toothpaste can help encourage adding clementines into your child’s diet!

      So let’s remember, there is nothing wrong with snacking, especially for your little one’s that are continuously growing. However, what we are feeding our kids throughout the day can have a large impact on the overall health of their teeth, and just as importantly as the types of snacks, is the frequency of snacking. Choose snacks and beverages that are high in nutrients, contain less processed sugars and starches, and be mindful of how often snacking occurs. 


      About the Authors 

      Kristen Cockrell is a Registered Dental Hygienist with a passion for preventive pediatric dentistry and oral health education. Kristen has recently graduated with a master’s degree in dental hygiene education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Social media account Instagram: @kristenwcockrell

      All graphic images and visuals created by Sarah Liebkemann, RDH  @sll.stories