NUTRITION AND DENTAL HEALTH Good nutrition is
essential for oral and dental health in children. Good eating habits and food
preferences are established early in childhood. Poor nutrition can eventually
lead to poor health, obesity, tooth decay, and periodontal disease.
DIETARY FACTORS THAT
CAUSE TOOTH DECAY
Most children crave sugary and other junk
food that they see in TV commercials. For this reason parents should try
to control what their children eat as much as possible.
Dietary habits often contribute to the development of dental caries in
children. Food which remains on the teeth provides a substrate for the
bacteria which thrive in dental plaque. These cariogenic (cavity causing)
bacteria produce acids which remove essential minerals from the teeth. This
destructive process is called demineralization.
An average person in the United States now consumes 155 pounds of sugar
per year. Unfortunately, processed sugar is not a good nutrient. In fact,
only sugar which is in the form of complex carbohydrates (bread, vegetables)
is healthy. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food
Guide Pyramid clearly shows that sugar should only be a very small part
of a child’s diet!
Sticky, sweet food is very bad for teeth because it maintains high sugar
levels in the mouth, and is very likely to cause tooth decay.
A young child who frequently uses a bottle or sippy cup containing juice
or other sweetened liquid has an increased risk of developing early
childhood caries (ECC). Children should only have water in their bottle
cup between meals!
THE DENTAL CARIES PROCESS
Dental caries is a transmissible and infectious bacterial disease. A
child’s diet plays a central role in the development of dental caries.
The more sugar a child consumes, and the more frequently he/she consumes
it, the greater the risk of developing dental caries (cavities).
is the most cariogenic form of sugar because it can form a long molecule
called glucan. This “glue” (glucan) permits bacteria to adhere to tooth
enamel, and keeps bacterial acid close to the surface of the tooth.
Dental caries is caused by a combination
cariogenic (cavity-causing) bacteria, food (especially refined sugar),
susceptible teeth, and frequency of exposure to sugar (especially sucrose).
The caries process is simple:
Cariogenic bacteria (mutans Streptococci) attach to the teeth and thrive in dental
plaque. The bacteria use sugar to produce acid. When there is enough
bacterial acid coating the tooth surface, demineralization (loss of mineral)
of the enamel occurs.
Streptococci bacteria are usually transferred from the mother’s mouth
to the infant’s mouth during feeding – especially spoon
feeding. The earlier a child’s mouth is colonized (inoculated) with a
mother’s oral bacteria the greater the risk for the development of caries
in the child.
Mineralization (calcification) of primary (baby) teeth occurs around month
3 to 4 of pregnancy. When a child is born, the crowns of the baby incisor
teeth are almost completely formed.
Nutritional deficiencies during pregnancy can cause serious problems,
including poor enamel formation (hypoplasia), susceptibility to dental
caries, delayed dental eruption, and small tooth size. Maternal osteomalacia
(vitamin D deficiency) can cause hypoplastic primary tooth enamel.
Fluoride supplementation for pregnant women has not been shown to reduce
dental caries in children. Therefore, fluoride supplements are not
recommended for pregnant women.
milk is the best nutrient for an infant. There are many components of
breast milk which benefit the baby.
Secretory IGA is an immunoglobulin which protects against infections in the
baby’s ears, nose, and throat.
They are a digestive material that influences the type of bacteria which
live in the baby’s digestive tract.
This is an iron-binding protein that has a direct antibiotic effect on
staphylococci and E. coli bacteria.
The baby needs this for converting fatty acids into an energy source.
Growth factors. These factors encourage the growth of helpful intestinal
bacteria – the lactobacillaceae.
Function: Needed for gingival health. Important for maintaining mucous
membranes of the mouth.
Source: Milk, carrots, and dark green vegetables.
Function: Essential for healthy bones, teeth and growth of the jaws.
Source: Sunshine, fortified milk, and oily fish.
Function: An important part of the “extrinsic” clotting system.
Source: Dark green leafy vegetables.
Function: Needed for periodontal and gingival health. Aids in wound healing.
Necessary for collagen production. Prevents bleeding gums.
Source: Fresh fruit, potatoes, and green vegetables.
Function: Deficiency leads to changes in oral mucous membranes – such as
angular chelitis and glossitis.
Source: Green vegetables, milk, liver, yogurt, and cheese.
Folic acid, folate.
Function: Helps the structures of the face develop correctly. Pregnant women
need to take this.
Source: Dark green vegetables, liver, and whole-meal bread.
THE ROLE OF MINERALS IN ORAL HEALTH
Function: Helps in the formation of teeth and bones.
Source: Milk, cheese, seafood, and yogurt.
Function: Needed for energy production, metabolism, and healthy bone
Source: Milk, cheese, meats, whole grains, eggs, and legumes.
Function: Needed for muscle contractions and nerve function.
Source: Milk, cheese, whole grains, and vegetables.
Function: Needed for tissue repair, normal metabolism, and wound healing.
Source: Seafood, liver, meats, and whole grain cereals.
Function: Required for glucose metabolism and the release of energy.
Source: Cheese, whole grain cereals, and meats.
Function: Keeps bones and teeth strong.
Source: Tea, broccoli, chicken, and fluoridated water.
Function: Required for the production of blood and nerve fibers.
Source: Seafood, liver, and nuts.
Function: Needed for blood production and energy production. A deficiency in
iron results in glossitis, which is a red, painful tongue.
Source: Liver, leafy green vegetables, and meats.
THE EFFECTS OF JUICE ON CHILDREN’S TEETH
Children are the single largest group of juice consumers. By the age of
one, almost 90% of infants in the U.S. are drinking fruit juice. One percent
of infants consume more than 21 ounces of juice per day!
Fruit juice is not a substitute for natural fruit, and it has fewer
nutrients. Water and carbohydrates are the main ingredients in juice. The
major carbohydrate components of juice are: sucrose, glucose, fructose, and
sorbitol. Fruit juice also lacks the fiber in whole fruit.
Malnutrition, short stature, and dental caries in children have been
associated with excessive juice consumption. Excessive consumption of juice
by infants can also cause diarrhea due to poor absorption of the
carbohydrates in juice. Abdominal pain is also common in heavy juice
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Academy of
Pediatrics both recommend that juice be offered to infants in a cup – not
in a bottle or sippy cup. Infants should not
be put to bed with a juice bottle or sippy cup.
It is recommended that fuit juice be consumed during meal time. Juice
should not be used to pacify a child, and should not be sipped all day.
THE EFFECTS OF SOFT DRINKS ON CHILDREN’S TEETH
drinks and soda are the biggest single source of refined sugar in the
American diet. Carbonated beverages have absolutely no nutritional value,
however. Heavy soft drink consumption is correlated with low intake of
ascorbic acid, magnesium, vitamin A, and riboflavin.
By 1998, American were consuming 15 billion gallons of soft drinks per
year. Today, Americans consume more than 53 gallons of carbonated beverages
per person, per year.
Even more alarming… twenty percent of one- and two-year- old children in
the U.S. consume soft drinks with an average consumption of seven ounces per
day! Fifty-six percent of U.S. 8-year-olds consume soft drinks every day!
High soft drink consumption leads to excessive caloric intake and high
consumption of sugar. There is a positive correlation between soft drink
consumption and dental decay. In many carbonated beverages, the sugar
content can equal 10 teaspoons per 12 ounces!
Most carbonated beverages contain phosphoric acid, citric acid, and
carbonic acid. Tragically, this leads to chemical
erosion of teeth.
Carbonated beverages are aggressively marketed at the teen market.
Consumption of soft drinks among 12- to 19-year-old males approached 81
gallons per year in 1998.
As teens in the United States have increased their consumption of soft
drinks, their consumption of milk has decreased by 40%, which contributes to
a decrease in their bone density. In fact, carbonated beverage consumption
in teenage girls is associated with osteoporosis
later in life. Girls build 92% of their bone mass before the age of 18.
Unfortunately, only 10% of teenage girls consume the recommended amounts of
milk and dairy foods.
AGE-APPROPRIATE NUTRITION GUIDELINES
From birth to four months of age:
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breast milk be the only
nutrient fed to infants until 4 to 6 months of age.
For mothers who do not breastfeed, infant formula can be used. Formula-fed
babies may need to eat 6 to 8 times per day for a total of 16 – 35 ounces
Four to six months of age:
At this age, the baby should be consuming 28 to 45 ounces of formula per
Six to eight months of age:
Solid foods can be introduced into the infant’s diet. Mother should wait
until the baby has good control of the head an neck. At that point, start
with a thin consistency mixture of baby rice cereal. Later, try offering
strained fruits and vegetables. Infants should not be allowed to use a sippy
cup for prolonged periods of time. Drinking fruit juice for a prolonged
period of time will likely lead to the development of dental caries.
Eight to twelve months of age:
By the age of one, most children should be “off the bottle.” Offer the
baby strained meats at this age.
Remember, infants should not be put to sleep with a bottle containing any
liquid other than water.
One year of age: Whole milk
or 4% milk may now replace breast milk or formula. Children under the age of
2 should not be given low-fat (2% or skim) milk.
Parents should encourage their infants to drink from a cup as they approach
their first birthday.
Toddlers and older children:
Do not give food that may cause your toddler to choke – such as nuts,
popcorn, raisins, hot dogs, grapes, or berries.
Infants should not be put to bed with a bottle containing juice or milk.
Only water should be in the bottle at bedtime!
One to two years of age:
Toddlers should be discouraged from carrying a sippy cup. Toddlers who drink
more than 12 fluid ounces of juice per day may develop dental caries and
Toddlers should be introduced to healthy food and snacks.
Yogurt and cheese are good calcium alternatives for children who cannot
Two years of age and up:
Aged cheese contains calcium lactate and fatty acids which help fight
cavities. The calcium and phosphates in aged cheese are slow-release
components which are needed for tooth remineralization. In addition, the
physical form of cheese promotes salivary flow – which increases food
clearance and decreases the acidic environment surrounding the teeth.
NUTRITION TIPS FOR PARENTS
Do not put an infant or toddler to bed with a bottle or sippy cup which
contains juice or milk. Only water should be in the container. In addition,
do not let your youngster drink or sip juice throughout the day. Frequent
use of a sippy cup containing juice is likely to cause dental caries. Put
only water in sippy cups!
Keep only healthy foods in the house. Buy “whole-wheat” products and
bread. Avid buying sweet snacks or soda, as these are very destructive to
teeth. Do not buy sticky, sweet foods such as candy, raisins, and fruit
Teach your children the importance of healthy eating habits. Do not let
sugars dominate your child’s diet!
Make healthy foods fun by providing a variety of healthy snacks, fruit,
and vegetables. Snacking on cheese can help prevent tooth decay. Aged
cheddar, Monterey Jack, and Swiss cheese
are best for this purpose.
Let your children know that soda and junk food causes cavities. Offer your
or water instead of juice. Teenage girls especially should drink plenty of
milk and avoid soda to prevent osteoporosis in the bones.
An article in Pediatrics reports on 2 cases of severe
nutritional deficiency caused by consumption of health food beverages by
infants. Case #1 was a 22-month-old male who was admitted to the hospital
with severe kwashiorkor – a protein deficiency. Case #2 was a 17-month-old
black male who was diagnosed with rickets – a vitamin D deficiency. In
both cases, taking a thorough diet history was crucial for arriving at a