When most parents think of oral health and nutrition, the first nutrient that comes to mind is calcium. You probably make sure your child eats plenty of dairy products to meet his or her calcium needs. However, there are several other important nutrients that your child needs to keep his or her teeth and gums in good shape. Here's a look at those nutrients and the foods in which they are found.
Calcium and magnesium actually work hand-in-hand to build healthy teeth. Without enough magnesium, the teeth cannot take up calcium from the blood, meaning that all of that milk and cheese may not be having the effect you would hope. Unfortunately, many children do not get enough magnesium, and this leads to teeth that are weak and more susceptible to cavities.
Some kid-friendly, magnesium-rich foods include:
- Pumpkin seeds (try sending these to school as a snack)
- Brown rice (start using brown rice instead of white when you cook at home)
- Bananas (cut them into chunks for little kids)
Like magnesium, vitamin D plays a role in ensuring the calcium your child eats actually ends up in the tooth enamel. There are also studies that suggest a lack of vitamin D may contribute to the development of periodontal disease, which could cause your child to lose teeth prematurely, or at the very least, suffer from sore gums. Your child's body will make its own vitamin D when he or she is exposed to sunlight. If you live in a cold or overcast area and your child does not spend much time outside, focus on including vitamin D-rich foods in the diet. Examples include:
- Fortified breakfast cereals (read the label to ensure it has been fortified with vitamin D)
- Pork (serve pork chops, cut into little pieces, with kid-friendly sauces for dipping)
- Eggs (many kids love scrambled eggs)
Iron is a mineral that is important for keeping your child's gums healthy. The immune system suffers when iron is in short supply, leaving your child less able to fight off the bacteria that cause gum disease and tooth decay. Many children are deficient in iron, as they may not enjoy the best sources of this nutrient, which include red meat and leafy greens. Some more kid-friendly sources of iron include:
- Dark meat chicken (it contains more iron than white meat)
- Lentils (add them to soups and stews; kids like their small size)
- Dried apricots (offer these as snacks in place of candy)
If you are careful to include foods that are high in iron, vitamin D and magnesium in your child's diet, you can count on his or her teeth and gums staying healthier.
For more information, contact a pediatric dentist like Smile Builders - Robyn Lesser DMD.