At Penn Dental Medicine, our pediatric dentistry student dentists and faculty doctors work hard to ensure your child has the best dental and overall health possible. As part of our comprehensive services, we provide families with valuable education and information to achieve the best oral hygiene habits at home.
Recently, our PDM Pediatric Dentistry Team hosted a community session where you—our PDM patients—asked our faculty doctors questions about pediatric dentistry. During this informative session, we answered queries, providing valuable insights. And, now, we’ve put this information together here for you!
Continue reading the first in our three-part series about pediatric dentistry: Part Two: Nutrition and Oral Tips from Top Pediatric Dentists in Philadelphia.
Making sure your young child is eating healthy, nutritious food can be a real struggle, especially if they are a picky eater. Matthew Whipple, a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist at Penn School of Dental Medicine in the Division of Community Oral Health identifies snacking as a primary culprit of kids avoiding healthy foods.
“A lot of parents say ‘my kid only likes to snack’. When they have a meal together they don’t want to eat those foods.” He explains. “If the child is snacking, they probably have less appetite to eat the foods that are nutritious.” The secret, Whipple says, is tapering off that snacking and “making that switch to having nutrient-rich foods on the plate rather than energy-rich.”
Many snack foods are high in calories and processed sugars. These sugars break down into acid in the mouth, damaging the protective layer of the teeth. Additionally, lots of snack foods are chewy or crunchy. This leads to more residue trapped in the teeth and gums, which can become a breeding ground for bacteria. Whole foods and veggies are far better, both for your teeth and your body. These foods are also more filling, reducing the urge for further snacking.
Another big concern for parents is making sure their child doesn’t have a vitamin deficiency that could hurt their oral health. Effects of malnutrition can pose serious health risks to children including weak teeth, delayed tooth eruption, and mouth inflammation in extreme cases. To address this, Whipple makes a list of foods to incorporate into your child’s diet.
The first major category he covers is calcium. Calcium is incredibly important to teeth and bone health, and can be found in most dairy and dairy-replacement products:
Whipple also recommends eating leafy greens like collards, spinach, and kale “Those are things you can easily put in smoothies. You can hide them.” He says. Whipple also recommends incorporating leafy greens into soups and spaghetti sauces to make sure your child is getting vital nutrients for oral health such as vitamin C, calcium, and iron. “There’s a whole slew of fruits and vegetables out there that are also a great source of vitamins.”
Finally, he recommends iron-rich whole grains. “If your kid likes sandwiches or crackers, you can fill those with whole grain alternatives,” says Whipple. Even whole grain cereals can give the nutritional benefits your child needs.
“At this age group there are two main sources we see: snacking, and what the kids are drinking,” says Whipple. Snack options, “something as simple as having pre-chopped fruits and vegetables” can make all the difference.
You don’t have to cut your child off from processed foods entirely, but making the healthier option the most available fosters good nutrition habits for oral health. Whipple recommends having the “healthy snacks in clear containers, so the kids can see those foods and easily identify them.” High-sugar, high-salt foods are best put in a less accessible place.
When it comes to sweet drinks, Whipple’s recommendations go even further. “Kids under the age of two should not be having any kind of juice or sweetened beverage at all,” he says. “Above the age of two you can begin to incorporate about a 4 ounce portion of juice.” Even then, these sweet drinks should be consumed with other kinds of more nutritious food. “The chewing process helps produce saliva, which helps reduce the residues left by those foods,” Whipple explains.
“I want to remind parents that they do have the tools and resources provided to them to make healthy decisions”, Whipple says. “They just have to know how to access that information.” To illustrate, he gives the example of a can of pineapple juice.
The small can might make it seem like a good snack for a child, but the nutrition label tells a different story. As a test for sweet drinks, Whipple recommends measuring out the amount of sugar in a drink visually. By dividing grams of sugar in the drink by 4, you get the teaspoons of sugar in the drink, giving you and your child a physical demonstration of the amount of sugar.
It’s also important to not necessarily take an ingredient list at face value. “If you actually do a google search for sources of sugar, you’ll come up with a food map that has 50, 60 different terms.” This can range from natural (like raw honey and molasses) to highly processed (like high-fructose corn syrup). It’s not always convenient or possible to have whole foods for your family, but you can know what’s in the foods you buy, and access free online resources from Penn Dental.
If you liked this entry in our series pediatric dentists in Philadelphia, stay tuned for Part Three: Pediatric Dental Care for Infants, and Your First Visit. And if you missed part one on pediatric brushing and flossing tips, read it here!
And don’t stop there! Be sure to take advantage of our complimentary pediatric dentistry resource on preparing for pediatric dentist visits, preventative care, and more: Download here!
You can also make a pediatric dental appointment by calling 215-898-8965.