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The healthy teeth diet

The healthy teeth diet

Sugar is the enemy of healthy teeth. Above all other foodstuffs, sugar is the one that bacteria in your toddler's mouth will thrive on, says Dr Peter Alldritt, chairman of the oral health committee of the Australian Dental Association.

"We've all got bacteria in our mouth," he says. "Even a healthy mouth has bacteria in it. These bacteria can easily break sugar down into acids, and those acids attack the tooth enamel - and that is what we call tooth decay. It can happen with other forms of carbohydrate as well, but sugar is the primary culprit."

The best diet for healthy teeth

The healthy teeth diet recommended by Dr Alldritt includes a rich variety of fresh fruits and vegetables plus lots of wholegrains - and a good dose of calcium.

"Calcium is important for the development of bones and teeth so include plenty of dairy products like milk and unsweetened yoghurt," he says. "Some of the yoghurts you can buy are fat-free and appear to be quite healthy, but can be very high in sugar, so go for the unsweetened versions."

Tap water is another essential - cheap, plentiful and terribly good for toddler teeth.

"The primary drink that your toddler should be drinking is water, and preferably tap water, so that you get the benefits of fluoride in the water," says Dr Alldritt. "Water and milk - that's what your child should be drinking. Things like cordials, soft drinks and fruit juices really don't have a place in a child's diet. They're fine for an occasional treat at a birthday party, but they can't be part of your child's daily diet or you'll have huge problems with tooth decay."

Finding the hidden sugars

In his dentistry practice, Dr Alldritt talks to many parents who believe they are giving their toddlers a healthy diet and are stunned to learn they have developed cavities. It all comes down to "hidden sugars".

"Parents are often unaware of just how much sugar is in the products they're buying," Dr Alldritt explains. "Even dried fruit: you'd assume that's a healthy snack, but it's actually quite high in sugar."

According to the Australian Dental Association (ADA), there are certain types of foods that often contain hidden sugars. If you're shopping for any of the groceries on the list below, look closely at the nutritional information panel to see how much sugar they contain.

  • snack bars and muesli bars
  • breakfast cereals
  • juice
  • yoghurt products
  • biscuits
  • cakes
  • savoury crackers
  • chips

For more information on baby teeth development, go to the ADA website

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