Healthy snacks - healthy teeth!
At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, we had a lot of discussion about healthy school snacks on the DI Moms Facebook page. Then the holidays hit with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. As a society, we are no strangers to the constant onslaught from sugar. So let’s discuss sugar, acids, and healthy snack alternatives.
What are cavities? A cavity is a hole in your tooth caused by a sugar-eating, acid-producing bacteria called Strep. Mutans. S. Mutans eats sugar and makes acid; the acid makes a hole, and the S. Mutans grows deeper into the tooth. Other bacteria, like lactobacillus, join, and the cavity grows. Unfortunately, you can have small- to medium-sized cavities and not know it. Eventually, as the cavity grows, the tooth will break or the bacteria will reach the nerve of the tooth, and it will hurt. In summary, sugar and acids lead to cavities.
Now let’s talk about saliva or spit. Your spit does many jobs. It moistens food as you chew it. It has minerals and other properties to help keep your teeth strong and to keep bacteria counts down. But for this article, its most important job is that it acts as a buffer. It raises the pH of your mouth from an acidic environment to an almost neutral environment (pH 7 = neutral). The caveat is that it takes time for your saliva to buffer the pH higher; studies show anywhere from 90-120 minutes. If you continue to snack on sugary foods or sip on acidic, sugary drinks throughout the day, the saliva doesn’t have a chance to do its job.
So, what can we give our kids and what do we want to avoid? When thinking about snacks, ask if they have added sugars, are sticky, or are liquid sugars. These are not good for teeth. It is recommended kids aged 2-18 have only six teaspoons or 25 grams of sugar per day. Furthermore, kids 4-6 should drink a maximum of 6 oz. of 100 percent fruit juice per day if at all.
Examples of snacks that we want to think twice about are gummy fruit snacks (these can have anywhere from 8-18 grams of sugar per pack), fruit roll ups, gushers, trail mix with dried fruit and candy, mixed fruit cups (canned fruit bathed in fruit juice typically with a high sugar content), yogurt in a tube (depending on the brand, these can have a lot of added sugar), chewy protein or snack bars, and starches such as chips and crackers.
The pH of drinks is equally important, especially if you sip on them throughout the day. Stick to water between meals. Examples of liquid sugars are ice cream, soda (pH 2.5), Gatorade (pH2.9, 26 grams of sugar), fruit juices, and sweet tea. I want to mention Kombucha and apple cider vinegar (pH 2.0-3.5) due to their low pH. I believe in the wonderful benefits of these, but sipping on them throughout the day will leave your mouth acidic and can contribute to acid erosion and tooth decay. Instead, drink it all at once or at meal-time.
In summary, read the label of snacks for added sugars, do not sip on sugary, acidic drinks throughout the day, and limit the total amount of sugar consumed per day. Some healthy snack alternatives include avocado, hard-boiled eggs, raw vegetables (you can add plain yogurt, nut butter, or hummus with those), fresh fruits, plain cottage cheese with honey and berries or with salami, plain or salted nuts, cheese sticks, unsweetened applesauce, and homemade granola with honey as the sweetener. As you can see, there are many tooth healthy snack options that pack well for children and adults. These are less cariogenic for our teeth and healthier for our bodies.
Dr. Zechmann is the owner of River Landing Dentistry, a general and family dental practice located on Daniel Island. River Landing Dentistry has expanded hours and is accepting new patients. Go to www.RiverLandingDentistry.com to schedule now and follow them on Facebook @riverlandingdentistry.