Q. I have a 5-year-old son and he needs to visit the dentist at least twice a year because at least one tooth ends up turning black. I brush his teeth every day after he wakes up and before he goes to bed at night. Some people say that his diet and eating habits are not right. What am I doing wrong that’s destroying his teeth like this?
A. The diet-tooth health link boils down to eating a nutrient-dense meal as opposed to a simple-carbohydrate meal. Regularly and continuously feeding your son foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates (chocolates, jam, honey, cakes, doughnuts, and the like) can contribute to tooth rot because these foods cling to the teeth. The sugar in these foods also feed bacteria, and the more bacteria in your son’s mouth, the more acid in his mouth too. This, in turn, will cause a breakdown of the protective tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay. Brushing his teeth only twice a day is not protection against the bacteria build-up that happens every time he eats a sugar-rich food; for example, eating a slice of cake at 10 a.m. or 4 p.m. and brushing at 9 p.m. (bed time) is definitely not protective against the bacteria that has been building up on his teeth right from the time he has begun eating his cake 5 or 11 hours earlier! What you need to definitely do is ….. limit the amount of sweet or sticky foods your son eats. Remember that sugar lies hidden in most processed and packaged foods, which may otherwise appear innocuously ‘salty’. Ask you son to brush his teeth after every meal, and teach him to use his tongue to clean food immediately off his teeth after a meal. Drinking water by swirling it around in his mouth or gargling every time he has eaten some food are other ways of decreasing the bacterial load in his oral cavity.
Consuming too many acidic drinks (carbonated beverages and juices) and having acid reflux disease (recurrent regurgitation of food following a meal) can also cause tooth decay. The acid in beverages can slowly dissolve tooth enamel. With acid reflux, stomach acid flowing back into the esophagus and mouth can also erode tooth enamel. Allow your son to consume sweetened beverages, including juices, only during meals or not at all. Unhealthy eating habits, such as sucking on candy for prolonged periods, can also cause tooth decay. Sipping on sugary drinks and sweetened milk, instead of quickly drinking it, increases the amount of time during which teeth are exposed to decay-causing sugars from the drinks, thus elevating the chances of tooth decay. Also, if your son’s salivary glands do not produce enough saliva to help wash away plaque and bacteria in his mouth, there will be more plaque and acid in his mouth, thus increasing the risk of tooth decay or rot. The advice of a dentist can be sought on this water, or simply, make sure that you son increases his water consumption through the day.
Nutritionally, a deficiency of the mineral fluoride can also cause dental caries. Fluoride is a natural mineral that can strengthen tooth enamel, making it resistant to cavities. Fluoride is added to public water supplies, and toothpastes, today, are mostly fluoridated too. Shellfish, grapes, and potatoes are dietary sources of fluoride; make sure your son eats a lot of these natural fluoride-rich foods.
Deep dental crevices are another reason for tooth decay. These groves can make it harder to brush effectively, and if plaque settles in these groves, it can eat away at the tooth’s surface. This issue is best discussed with a dentist. Transmission of acid-producing bacteria from parents (or others) by sharing saliva on spoons or cups, can also be the cause of tooth decay in children. And finally, the best times to brush teeth are after breakfast (not before) and after dinner. Follow the suggestions, and I’m sure you’ll be able to salvage what’s left of your son’s shiners!!!!
SHERYL AFONSO e D’SOUZA
CLINICAL NUTRITIONIST (NORBERT’S FITNESS STUDIO) & COURSE COORDINATOR/ASST. PROFESSOR (M.Sc. FOOD TECHNOLOGY, CARMEL COLLEGE)