Snacks. Everybody seems to like them – I know I do. Those little treats between meals that give us a burst of energy or help tide us over until the next meal time. The challenge is: What makes up a “good” snack? I suspect that each of us may define that word “good” differently...
Snack desires certainly vary by age as well as by the individual. With younger children, parents are more often involved in determining what their kids will be snacking on whereas older kids are probably selecting the things they want to eat or drink. So in the first instance, it’s probably more important to be certain that the parents or other caregivers understand what will be good for the children, but in the second, we need to help the teens make wise choices. (Perhaps in both instances, some of the issue is heavily impacted by the choices that whoever does the grocery shopping makes when they are at the store!)
Snacks can be subdivided into beverages and items that are eaten. Beverages are comparatively easy – water is good. Everything else is somewhat questionable. I know – that doesn’t really help, but it is true. I suspect almost everyone knows that pop isn’t good for your teeth, whether it is diet or regular. In fact, there is fairly good research that shows that diet pop is worse for your teeth than pop with sugar in it – purely based on the amount of acidity. What is a surprise to many people is that sports drinks are also bad for teeth. They often have lots of sugar and almost always have, again, high acidity. Fruit juices also are usually high in acidity. Even milk, in spite of what we’ve been told, can be damaging to teeth, because it contains sugar and is retained longer in the mouth than some other beverages.
So, how can we make drinks available for children and not create dental problems? The answer is actually rather easy. After the beverage of choice is consumed, have your child rinse their mouth vigorously with water for at least a few seconds. That’s actually far better than brushing since the rinsing either flushes the acidity out of the mouth or at least dilutes it significantly. Brushing actually causes more breakdown by scrubbing the acid into the teeth.
Once that is dealt with, your choice is much easier – which beverages are potentially helpful for your child’s growth and health? Not pop. Ever. Once in a while as a treat, if your kids like it, is probably not a problem. But if you can keep them from ever growing to like it, that’s ideal! Sports drinks are rarely indicated unless your child is actively involved in sports programs that are very vigorous and the level of exercise is high stress and lasts for more than an hour at a time. Even then, after consuming them, rinse! So milk and fruit juices (real juice, NOT juice drinks – read the label!) are probably best. And rinse after drinking them.
For edible snacks, fruits and high protein items are probably best. For fruits, again, rinsing after eating is a good idea. Fruits have the advantage of providing a quick energy boost, but they don’t provide sustained energy. Popcorn is another fun snack that’s fairly dentally healthy – as long as you avoid the un-popped kernels! Cheese and/or chunks of meat of some kind are great sources of protein, as are many nuts. Nuts have an additional advantage of not being chewy or sticky, so they are more easily cleaned or even rinsed away. Some protein bars are also good – again, read the labels! Protein provides a longer lasting or more sustained level of energy and a somewhat smoother increase of it as well.
Things to avoid? Avoid highly processed foods and items high in carbohydrates. Chips and similar types of foods are highly retentive (they stick around teeth and are hard to remove) and may provide quick energy, but no sustained benefit. Cookies and other dessert-like foods are almost always very high in sugar and very low in food value, so it’s best to avoid them. In general, very sticky foods are difficult to clean and usually lead to problems.
I hope this helps provide a new perspective for you. If you have other suggestions for healthy snacks or questions about dental health, please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, Thanks!