Smart Snacks for Healthy Teeth
with sugary snacks, anyway?
Sugary snacks taste so
good-but they aren't so good for your teeth or your body. The candies,
cakes, cookies, and other sugary foods that kids love to eat between meals
can cause tooth decay. Some sugary foods have a lot of fat in them too.
Kids who consume sugary
snacks eat many different kinds of sugar every day, including table sugar
(sucrose) and corn sweeteners (fructose). Starchy snacks can also break down
into sugars once they're in your mouth.
Did you know that the
average American eats about 147 pounds of sugars a year? That's a big pile
of sugar! No wonder the average 17-year-old in this country has more than
three decayed teeth!
How do sugars
attack your teeth?
Invisible germs called
bacteria live in your mouth all the time. Some of these bacteria form a
sticky material called plaque on the surface of the teeth. When you put
sugar in your mouth, the bacteria in the plaque gobble up the sweet stuff
and turn it into acids. These acids are powerful enough to dissolve the hard
enamel that covers your teeth. That's how cavities get started. If you don't
eat much sugar, the bacteria can't produce as much of the acid that eats
How can I
"snack smart" to protect myself from tooth decay?
Before you start munching
on a snack, ask yourself what's in the food you've chosen. Is it loaded with
sugar? If it is, think again. Another choice would be better for your teeth.
And keep in mind that certain kinds of sweets can do more damage than
others. Gooey or chewy sweets spend more time sticking to the surface of
your teeth. Because sticky snacks stay in your mouth longer than foods that
you quickly chew and swallow, they give your teeth a longer sugar bath.
You should also think
about when and how often you eat snacks. Do you nibble on sugary snacks many
times throughout the day, or do you usually just have dessert after dinner?
Damaging acids form in your mouth every time you eat a sugary snack. The
acids continue to affect your teeth for at least 20 minutes before they are
neutralized and can't do any more harm. So, the more times you eat sugary
snacks during the day, the more often you feed bacteria the fuel they need
to cause tooth decay.
If you eat sweets, it's
best to eat them as dessert after a main meal instead of several times a day
between meals. Whenever you eat sweets -- in any meal or snack -- brush your
teeth well with a fluoride toothpaste afterward.
When you're deciding
about snacks, think about:
the number of times a
day you eat sugary snacks
how long the sugary
food stays in your mouth
the texture of the
sugary food (chewy? sticky?)
If you snack after
school, before bedtime, or other times during the day, choose something
without a lot of sugar or fat. There are lots of tasty, filling snacks that
are less harmful to your teeth -- and the rest of your body -- than foods
loaded with sugars and low in nutritional value. Snack smart!
Low-fat choices like raw
vegetables, fresh fruits, or whole-grain crackers or bread are smart
choices. Eating the right foods can help protect you from tooth decay and
other diseases. Next time you reach for a snack, pick a food from the list
inside or make up your own menu of non-sugary, low-fat snack foods from the
basic food groups.
variety of foods from these groups:
Fresh fruits and
Milk and dairy
Meat, nuts and
(these snacks combine foods from the different groups)
foods less often
eat a variety of
low or non-fat foods from the basic groups
brush your teeth
with fluoride toothpaste after snacks and meals
Note to Parents
The foods listed in this
leaflet have not all been tested for their decay-causing potential. However,
knowledge to date indicates that they are less likely to promote tooth decay
than are some of the heavily sugared foods children often eat between meals.
Candy bars aren't the
only culprits. Foods such as pizza, breads, and hamburger buns may also
contain sugars. Check the label. The new food labels identify sugars and
fats on the Nutrition Facts panel on the package. Keep in mind that brown
sugar, honey, molasses, and syrups also react with bacteria to produce
acids, just as refined table sugar does. These foods also are potentially
damaging to teeth.
Your child's meals and
snacks should include a variety of foods from the basic food groups,
including fruits and vegetables; grains, including breads and cereals; milk
and dairy products; and meat, nuts, and seeds. Some snack foods have greater
nutritional value than others and will better promote your child's growth
and development. However, be aware that even some fresh fruits, if eaten in
excess, may promote tooth decay. Children should brush their teeth with
fluoride toothpaste after snacks and meals. (So should you!)
Please note: These
general recommendations may need to be adapted for children on special diets
because of diseases or conditions that interfere with normal nutrition.