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For Dental Health, Delete Cookies and Dip, Baby, Dip!

Your family can enjoy snacks and discourage tooth decay at the same time.  When bacteria, normally found in the mouth, come in contact with sugars and some starches, they feed on these substances and produce an acid capable of dissolving enamel on teeth. For this reason, the earlier sugarless snacks are introduced and encouraged, the better chance your child has of continuing the habit and thereby having healthier teeth.

That’s important because dental disease has reached staggering proportions. It affects 95% of all Americans. Tooth decay  is five times more common in children than asthma. Good dental health is the result of daily brushing and flossing, regular dental checkups — and good food habits.

Tooth-Friendly Snacks

The average American will eat 35,000 cookies in a lifetime!  Here are some healthier snack options.

Go for healthy grains.  Whole-grain foods — such as whole-grain pretzels or tortillas and high-fiber, whole-grain cereals — provide energy with some staying power.

Dip, baby, dip!  Serve baby carrots or other raw veggies with fat-free ranch dressing or hummus. Dip graham cracker sticks or fresh fruit in fat-free yogurt. Keep out a jar of peanut butter or a snack container  for celery, apple or banana dunking or spreading.

Circle back for a mini-breakfast.  Serve breakfast foods such as scrambled eggs and whole-grain waffles as healthy snacks in the afternoon.

Broaden the menu.  Offer out-of-the-usual fare, such as pineapple, cranberries, red or yellow peppers, mangoes, tangelos or roasted soy nuts.

Sweets can be okay. Healthy snacks for kids don’t have to be bland. To satisfy your child’s sweet tooth, offer fat-free pudding, frozen yogurt or frozen fruit bars. Make smoothies with skim milk, fat-free yogurt and fresh or frozen fruit.

Tooth Decay Busters

Ongoing research indicates that antioxidants and other nutrients found in fruits, vegetables and dairy may strengthen immunity and help the mouth’s ability to handle cavity-causing bacteria attacks. Include these items regularly in your child’s snack defense line-up:

• Antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C and other nutrientsfrom fruits and vegetables help protect gums and other tissues from cell damage and bacterial infection.

• Cheese unleashes a burst of calcium that mixes with plaque and sticks to the teeth, protecting them from the acid that causes decay and helping to rebuild tooth enamel.

• Crisp fruits and raw vegetables such as apples, carrots and celery help clean plaque from teeth and freshen breath.

Have Some More!

For more snack ideas, see 25 Healthy Snacks for Kids from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

• Fresh cranberries interrupt the bonding of oral bacteria before they can form damaging plaque.

• Milk contains lactic acid that can kill bacteria that cause gum disease. 

Althea Zanecosky is a Philadelphia registered dietitian and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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