A few years ago we shared a blog post all about smart snacking, and it seemed appropriate to bring up the topic again amid the Coronavirus shutdown. With so many kids, quarantined at home, the temptation for snacks is constant (for adults too!). It’s a never-ending “I’m hungry!” or “Can I have a snack??” when you’re trying to homeschool with the refrigerator and pantry within feet.
This worries a lot of pediatric dentists because we know that it’s not really the AMOUNT of sugar in one sitting that is dangerous for cavities, but really the FREQUENCY. And although we know you’re not offering candy at every request, even carbohydrate snacks such as granola bars, goldfish, and crackers can be dangerous as they break down to simple sugars when left on teeth. When the bacteria that cause cavities are exposed to sugar, they break it down into acid that eventually can weaken enamel and create holes in teeth. The buffers and minerals in saliva help neutralize acid released by bacteria after sugar exposure, but it takes time for the saliva to regenerate its helpful properties. So if you snack frequently, your saliva may struggle to keep up and cannot completely combat all the acid that builds up.
We don’t think of a cracker as the usual culprit for dental decay, but the next time you eat one, pay attention to how it actually can be thought of as a “sticky” food. The mashed up carbohydrate gets stuck in the grooves of your teeth and unless you pick it out with your tongue, finger, or a toothbrush, the food will stay there for quite awhile. Young children don’t have the full motor development of their tongues to pick out the food, and many just don’t seem to be bothered by have food stuck in their teeth. It is not surprising to find Goldfish stuck in the grooves of our little patients’ molars hours after their snack time! If left on the tooth long enough, the Goldfish remnants will eventually be broken down into simple sugars that then feed the bacteria and cause acid production.
Since we can’t resume normal check-ups and elective dental work for quite some time, we wanted to remind parents to keep healthy snacking in mind in the meantime. We know these are stressful times, and we’re not suggesting that children NEVER eat crackers – but you can make some adjustments to your family’s snacking routine that could make a big difference for teeth. The best thing would be to limit the frequency of snacks and choose non-carbohydrate food for in between meals, such as cheese sticks, yogurt, fruit, or meat. Avoid snacks that are extra sticky such as dried fruit or granola bars made with dates or honey. Offer water with all snacks to help wash away leftover food, or have a crunchy snack like an apple or carrot after a cracker to help clean out the molar grooves.