While most of us know that giving our kids tons and tons of candy or cookies is bad for their teeth, it can be easy to overlook drinks and teeth. Yet, beverages can have a big impact on dental health too, particularly when they’re slowly sipped throughout the day, such as when you give a child a sippy cup or water bottle. That’s because then the teeth are constantly being bathed in whatever your child is drinking. As Naperville pediatric dentists, we try to encourage families to limit sugary drinks and stick with smile-friendly options. To help, we’re sharing the best and worst drinks for kids’ teeth.
How Drinks Affect Teeth
Before we get into the drinks, let’s do a quick overview of drinks and teeth. The mouth is full of bacteria and the bacteria feed on any sugars and starches we ingest. When they do this, they release acids that eat away at the tooth’s enamel, which can eventually lead to tooth decay in kids. Most things have some sugar or starch in them so it’s important to brush and floss regularly and limit the amount of sugar and simple carbohydrates kids’ eat.
Additionally, since the acids from the bacteria hang out in the mouth for about a half hour after eating or drinking before being neutralized by the minerals in the saliva, every time your child takes another bite of food or another sip of their drink, the clock starts over. That’s why it’s best to enjoy any drink aside from water in one sitting, preferably at a meal. Now that the primer on drinks and teeth is complete, let’s talk beverages.
The Best Drinks for Your Teeth
- Water – When it comes to good drinks for teeth, water tops the list. It has zero sugars or starches so it doesn’t give the bacteria in the mouth anything to feed on.It’s also like a bath for your child’s pearly whites since it helps wash away food debris and plaque. Drinking water encourages saliva flow too, which aids in the remineralization process that strengthens the teeth.Water really is an oral health superhero! Whenever you give a child a sippy cup or water bottle that they’ll be slowly drinking over a long period of time, make sure it’s filled with good old H2O.
- Milk – Milk is another of the drinks good for teeth enamel. It’s chock full of calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus, which boost the health of the teeth, gums and supporting bones. Milk lowers acid levels, making it a great option for drinking after kids eat something sugary (milk and cookies, anyone?) to help neutralize acid attacks. The phosphorus and calcium combo also helps stimulate remineralization, which strengthens the teeth and replaces lost minerals. As if these benefits weren’t enough to convince you that milk is one of the best drinks for teeth, the proteins, called caseins, found in milk form a protective film on teeth that can repel some of the bacterial acids. It is important to note though that milk contains natural sugars so it is best to drink milk in one sitting at a meal. Giving a child milk in a bottle overnight can lead to what’s known as baby bottle tooth decay because the sugars sit on the teeth all night long. However, a glass or two of milk a day with regular brushing and flossing can help boost oral hygiene.
- Unsweetened Milk Alternatives (e.g., Soy Milk, Rice Milk, Oat Milk, Almond Milk, Coconut Milk, etc.) – If your child doesn’t drink milk, unsweetened alternative milks with added calcium will give them similar benefits to cow’s milk and keep their smile strong. Again, be sure to offer the beverage at meals.
- Unsweetened 100% Fruit Juice – Okay, so fruit juice isn’t technically one of the best drinks for kids’ teeth and would probably be more accurate to call it an “okay drink for kids’ teeth.” However, 100% fruit juice with no added sugar isn’t the enemy and it does contain vitamins that support healthy gums. Additionally, studies have found no correlation between early childhood cavities in kids one to five years old and drinking four to six ounces of 100% fruit juice a day. Fruit juice, especially citrus fruit juice, can be acidic, which may weaken enamel, so wait at least 20 to 30 minutes after drinking it before brushing kids’ teeth, as not to damage them. As always, avoid putting fruit juice in a sippy cup and offer a small amount with a meal. Consider watering it down if you think your child will drink more than four ounces.
The Worst Drinks for Your Teeth
- Commercial Fruit Juices – While 100% fruit juice with no added sugar is okay, commercial fruit juices are among the worst drinks for your teeth. The combination of acidity and the astronomical amount of sugar can lead to tooth decay in children.
- Iced Tea and Lemonade in a Can or Bottle – Both popular drinks are full of sugar. Even though the lemonade may not contain actual lemon, it’s still highly acidic and can erode the enamel, which makes it more susceptible to the subsequent acid attacks from the bacteria in the mouth. The high sugar content in both also dries out the mouth and without enough saliva flowing, the sugar sits on the teeth longer and the remineralization process isn’t as effective. A study found that canned iced tea was one of the drinks that damage teeth because it erodes enamel at 30 times the rate of coffee.
- Sports Drinks – Sports drinks are marketed as something you need for an active lifestyle. In reality, a child or even an adult won’t see much difference from drinking a sports drink and research seems to suggest they really only have a benefit after engaging in more than an hour of heavy activity (think running a marathon). Even then, if your child eats a balanced diet, sports drinks aren’t really that necessary. So, for the little benefit, you instead get sugar and acidity that can damage tooth enamel. Vitamin waters are also just as bad for teeth as the others.
- Energy Drinks – Energy drinks are high in caffeine so they’re probably not the best drink for kids in general. However, much like lemonade in a can or commercial fruit juices, energy drinks pack the one-two punch of acidity and sugar making them one of the worst drinks for kids’ teeth or anyone’s teeth. In fact, a study discovered energy drinks strip away more enamel from the teeth than sports drinks.
- Regular Soda and Diet Soda – Soda is the drink that damages teeth the most. We’re not saying to never ever have soda but saving it for a very occasional treat and having a small glass of it with a meal is your best bet. Have kids swish water around their mouth after drinking it too to eliminate residue. Why is soda so bad? It has lots of sugar, carbonation and additives, including phosphoric and citric acids. The acids are super aggressive on enamel, weakening it, while the sugar causes the bacteria to produce cavity-causing acids. A study looked at how bad each of the different types of sodas were. Cola drinks (Pepsi and Coca-Cola) dissolved enamel 55 to 65 more times than the baseline and non-cola drinks, with Mountain Dew being the worst, dissolved enamel 90 to 180 times more than the baseline. The surprising findings were that the least damaging was root beer and there was no difference between regular soda and diet soda as to how much enamel was dissolved. So, diet soda is not safer for the teeth even though it has artificial sweeteners.
While we hope this list of the best and worst drinks for kids’ teeth is helpful, remember, everything in moderation. Offering kids mostly water throughout the day and reserving sugary drinks for special occasions will go a long way in protecting growing smiles. If you have any questions or you’re looking for a fun, friendly kids’ dentist in Naperville, contact Innovative Pediatric Dentistry today at (630) 848-PEDO or [email protected].