Little People’s Dentist: What You Eat Matters

Once a child’s teeth are erupted into their mouth they are at risk for decay. When it comes to dental decay–diet and the frequency of what we eat matters.

Dr. David Stewart from Little People’s Dental shares ways to prevent tooth decay.

To understand why diet matters, we need to understand the decay process.

About teeth—

•A tooth is a mineral structure

• Decay (cavities) in teeth is a process where the mineral tooth dissolves in an acid environment.

• Much like sugar cubes dissolve in water, mineral teeth will begin to dissolve if the acid levels in our mouth increase.

• Acid levels in our mouth increase when certain bacteria found on and around teeth receive simple carbohydrates, sugars, and refined starches.

• The most common area for decay is in the pits and fissures of teeth.

•The next, most common area for decay is in-between teeth.

•Daily, oral hygiene and a good diet can help reduce the risk of decay in these areas.

About diet—

• About 90% of all foods contain sugars or starches that enable bacteria in dental plaque to produce acids. This attack by bacterial acid, lasting 20 minutes or more, can lead to loss of tooth mineral and to cavities

• Each time we eat or drink, we load our saliva with things that allow the bacteria to make acid and the teeth begin to dissolve.

• It takes several minutes for the acid to get cleared from the mouth by our saliva.

• People who “graze” on food (eat frequently all day), can have teeth dissolving in an acid environment all day long and this can lead to increased cavities.

• It is important understand that cooked starches (fermentable carbohydrates) can lead to cavities just as sugars can. In fact, such cooked starches as breads, crackers, pasta, pretzels, and potato chips frequently take longer to clear the mouth than sugars. So the decay risk from these foods may last even longer. For example caramels dissolve more quickly from the mouth than cooked starchy foods, and would thus pose less of a decay risk than eating the cracker.

• The bacteria in the mouth do not distinguish between the amount of sugar or starch in food; but instead load themselves with what is available and the byproduct is acid. For example, a lick of frosting can start the same acid attack as eating a whole cake.

• A person who licks a piece of hard candy every few minutes to make it last longer or slowly sips a sugared drink while working is flirting with a high risk of tooth decay. Such long-lasting snacks create and acid attack on teeth for the entire time they are in the mouth

So what do we recommend—

• It is recommended that people eat six small meals at specific times during the day, sitting down, and completing the meal or snack in one sitting and then not “grazing” between meals.

• Water should be drunk during the day or at night when you are thirsty; saving milk or juice for meal times.

• Dried fruits, fruit snacks, highly-refined crackers and/or chewy sticky, cooked, starchy foods should be avoided on a day-to-day basis as snacks; because they stick to the teeth and are retained for an extended period of time allowing the bacteria to make acids for the entire time that the food is in the mouth. This can lead to increased cavities.

• After eating or drinking food or drinks with sugars and starches in them; water and/or brushing should be used to clear the mouth. Chewing a sugarless gum could also be used to promote saliva production which can also help to clear the mouth.

• A food with sugar and starch is safer for teeth if it is eaten with a meal, not as a snack.

• Do not put your young child to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice.

• If you or your child chews gum or sips soda, select products that are sugar-free.

Some nutritious, healthy snack ideas—

• Choose nutritious snacks such as cheese, vegetables, yogurt and chocolate milk.

• Cheeses such as aged cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, and Monterey jack stimulate the flow of saliva, clearing the mouth of food debris and acting as a buffer to neutralize the acids that attack teeth.

• Cheese can reduce or prevent the rise of acid levels in the mouth and the calcium and phosphorous found in the cheese can promote remineralization of tooth enamel.

• Children ages one to ten need the amount of calcium each day found in about three cups of milk. Older children need the amount of calcium a day found in a quart of milk.

• Chocolate milk, like white milk is highly nutritious. Chocolate milk is preferable to many popular snacks that provide energy but few nutrients. Milk is a significant source of protein, calcium, and vitamins. And children like chocolate milk so they are more likely to choose it over plain milk and are more likely to drink more of it.

What you eat is important. But perhaps even more important is the frequency of when you eat. If we are continually eating or drinking things with sugar and starch; then our mouth can never clear itself of the acid that dissolves the teeth.

To contact Dr. David Stewart go to


1268 W. South Jordan Parkway, Suite 101

South Jordan, UT 84095

Phone: (801) 446-8007

Add comment