July 18, 2011

Tips for Maintaining Healthy Little Smiles (particularly with food-allergic kids)

So my four-year-old went to the dentist today and sat still with his mouth wide open for the first time ever.  Oh, he'd been to the dentist before, several times in fact--with his mouth plastered shut.  But after a visit to his preschool from a local dentist showing him how things worked, he changed his tune.  And upon his first dental examination, we found out that he has a cavity, and another one forming (eeek!). 

I don't know about you, but my day-to-day food goals for myself and my food allergic children are to get through the day without incident, eat a variety of foods as healthfully as possible on an allergy-safe diet, and have some fun along the way. 

We have several very good friends who are dentists, and I get an earful all the time, but the kids' teeth are just not first and foremost in my mind.  Add food allergies to some stubborn kids and a few bad eating habits, and what you get are childhood cavities. 

A few words of wisdom from our dentist friends (thanks Dr. McFaul, Dr. Wee, and Dr. Wong!), on how to keep your children cavity-free (or in our case, to prevent future cavities):

Reduce acid build-up
I'm not going to claim to understand how all of this works, but apparently if you can reduce the number of times your kids are exposed to acid attacks, you can reduce plaque and cavities.  You can do this by avoiding the foods that are causing it, and neutralizing the acids (keeping teeth their cleanest!).

In other words, our job as moms is to make more tooth-healthy food choices, and ensure that our routines support good oral hygiene.

Snacking: Quality and Quantity Count
The more acid attacks, the worse off your teeth are.  So it makes sense that the more often your kids snack, the more prone they are to plaque and cavities.  Ok, we're not going to starve our kids.  And the word toddler may as well be synonymous with the word grazer.  But we can try limiting snacks and we can give them snack options that are not only good for their bodies, but their teeth too.

Foods like fruit roll-ups and fruit leathers, juice boxes, sports drinks, crackers, chips, and cookies (sticky and high-carb), are the worst culprits.  Anything sticky, gummy, and chewy tend to stay on the teeth all day long.  My kids love raisins and crackers, but in the dental world, you should limit these snacks to when you can brush afterward (like for dessert).  And of course, candy is a big no-no.

I believe that dairy-allergic kids are at a disadvantage here.  Because they can't drink cow's milk, many turn to alternative fortified milks to supplement their calcium intake.  And lots of these milks have added sweeteners.  It's best to start off on the right foot and try to find a variety with less or no added sugar, because once they get used to their milk, it could prove difficult to change on them.  If your kids are not soy-allergic, try Trader Joe's unsweetened soy milk (light blue and white carton).  Beware of milks called plain or original, as they will often have added sugar. 

And, we've heard it a million times, but please don't let your baby/toddler fall asleep with a bottle in her mouth! 

Brush, brush, and floss. 
I know, brushing and flossing two, three, four or more mouths twice a day sounds daunting.  Especially when you have a 7:45 am school start time (yes, we do!).  But it has to be done.  And not just any brush will do--electric brushes are more effective than manual ones, especially when you have a particularly squirmy child.  Let them watch you brush with one, and get them used to it when they're still young.  Don't forget to wait 30 minutes after eating to brush to let your natural acid-neutralizing saliva do its job.

A Note About Flossing
One of my dentist friends said that they will always tell you to floss twice a day, but that once will usually suffice (it'll be our little secret).  As long as the once doesn't turn into every other day...once a week...and then almost never.  The kids will get into the habit and it really is a lifelong habit.  Get those kids' flossers--they really work.  When they're around 6 or know how to rinse and spit, a flouride rinse is a great addition to the routine too.

An Apple a Day...
Ok, there's really no way I'm going to carry toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss in my already overflowing diaper bag and brush between meals.  Sorry.  But there are ways to get some of the food off your teeth in lieu of stepping into a public bathroom with three kids to brush.  Eating foods like crunchy apples or carrots will help to mechanically get some of the leftover food off teeth between meals.

Chew gum
Chewing sugarless xylitol-containing gum like Trident when they're old enough is great for getting some of the sticky stuff off teeth and neutralizing the acids.  (Note: Trident Xtra Care contains casein, which is not safe for those who are dairy-allergic, so read the package and ingredients carefully!).

Drink Tap Water
And our dentist says that drinking flouridated tap water after and between meals is the number one way to help improve our kids' (and our) dental health.  Don't start me on how much money we've spent on bottled water in the past, only to learn that tap is best for our teeth.

Boost bone and teeth health by boosting your calcium: Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium
Dairy is the most well-known source of calcium.  But for dairy allergic kids, you can also try non-dairy sources like your fortified non-dairy milks (like soy, rice, or almond), leafy greens like collards, kale, bok choy, spinach, and broccoli, tofu, beans, almonds and hazelnuts (for those who can eat nuts), tahini, oats, seaweed, quinoa, and sunflower seeds. 

Don't forget about calcium supplements (yes, my kids love the sugary sweetness of the sticky calcium and vitamin D gummy bears, so we take them after breakfast before the morning brushing).  Now that they've increased the vitamin D recommendations to twice what they used to be, it is nearly impossible for my children to get it through nutrition and sun alone, particularly since we live in an infamously foggy city.

Great sources of kid-friendly calcium (clockwise from top): sunflower seeds, edamame, and oats
Boost calcium and vitamin D with supplements your kids will eat--gluten, dairy, egg, nut, peanut, and soy-free.
TJ's quinoa--high in protein and calcium, and gluten-free, too!
Calcium-packed lunch idea: Quinoa with tofu and broccoli

If you (or your kids) haven't tasted quinoa before, it's worth a try.  For some kids, the texture might take some getting used to.  It's a very small grain, with a bit of a nutty flavor, and sort of pops in your mouth.

Cook quinoa like rice in a pot, according to package directions.  You can find boxed quinoa at your local Trader Joe's in the pasta aisle.  Substitute your favorite broth and a pat of butter instead of water, and it is a stand-alone side dish.  Add firm or baked tofu, cubed, with brocolli or edamame while the quinoa is cooking, and you've got a tasty dairy-free lunch packed with calcium.


  1. Just wanted to correct myself: Apparently the tj's seaweed has no calcium (boo). If anyone knows what kind of seaweed does have calcium, I'd love to know!

  2. This is an article I wanted to write. But you already did! I am sharing this on our FB page. Thanks so much!

    Milk Allergy Mom

  3. Oh good! Thanks Jamie. Hope it helps. :)