By Erika Christ, Operation Live Well
Nearly everyone knows that brushing your teeth at least twice a day, flossing daily and visiting the dentist regularly are key to good oral hygiene and health. But did you know that what you drink—and when and how you consume it—can impact your dental health as well?
Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, energy drinks and fruit juice are one of the leading contributors to tooth decay and cavities. Many of these beverages also contain acids that can cause dental erosion. If left untreated, any of these forms of dental damage can lead to the need for fillings, root canals or even tooth extraction.
The good news is that following some simple tips from early infancy through retirement can help protect your teeth and prevent unnecessary and costly trips to the dentist’s office:
- Even though infants remain toothless for the first several months of their lives, it’s important to clean their gums with a little water on a piece of gauze or a washcloth after feedings and before bedtime. This will help clean off any bacteria that might damage teeth as they erupt.
- Never let your baby fall asleep with a bottle as the liquid tends to pool in their mouths and can cause bacteria build-up or decay.
- Avoid feeding babies sugar-sweetened juice; stick with milk, formula or water.
- Ideally, avoid giving your children fruit juice, soda or sports drinks; instead serve them fresh fruit, water, low-fat milk or unsweetened beverages.
- If you do give your children sugar-sweetened beverages or 100% juice, try to limit their intake to one serving per day and serve it at the beginning of a meal.
- Dilute fruit juice to half-strength with water.
- Serve sugar-sweetened beverages or juice with a straw that reaches the back of your child’s tongue. This will help the drink go straight down their throat instead of pooling in the mouth.
- After consuming sugar-sweetened beverages, immediately rinse your mouth with water, chew some sugar-free gum for a few minutes, or brush your teeth with fluoridated toothpaste about 20 minutes later.
- Rehydrate with water during and after physical activity lasting one hour or less.
- For longer workouts, consider other healthy hydration options like unsweetened herbal tea, skim milk or water flavored with citrus fruit wedges or a small amount of lemon or lime juice.
- Consume enough calcium and vitamin D to help strengthen the bones that support your teeth, and prevent tooth loss. Consult with your medical provider about how much you need.
- If you suffer from dry mouth due to taking certain medications, drink plenty of water, chew on sugar-free gum and avoid caffeine to help protect your dental health.