You already know that sweet, sticky foods like caramels, taffy and jujubes are bad for kids’ teeth. That’s because they contain a lot of sugar, and sugar can cause tooth decay—especially when it adheres to teeth and isn’t quickly brushed away.
But gooey, sticky candy isn’t the only common kid snack that can lead to cavities in kids’ teeth or other oral health problems. Here are some others that may surprise you.
1. Citrus fruits
Oranges, clementines and mandarins are a nutritious source of vitamin C, which is important for healthy gums. But citrus fruits are also highly acidic, which is an enemy to tooth enamel.
“Acid from citrus fruits can erode tooth enamel, making your child’s teeth weaker and more susceptible to cavities,” says Bryan Lazarus, a dentist at Highview Dental in Aurora, Ont.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should stop giving citrus fruits to your kids. Instead, just be sure to avoid brushing your kids’ teeth for 30 minutes after they’ve eaten citrus, recommends Mahvareh Akhgar Araghi, a pediatric dentist with Smiletown in Cambridge, Ont. “This helps avoid scraping off the softened enamel before it hardens by saliva,” she says.
Lazarus advises parents to discourage kids from sucking on orange slices or grapefruit wedges, since the direct and prolonged contact is bad for tooth enamel. “I have some patients that like to suck on lemons, which is clearly just terrible for your teeth,” he says.
2. Crackers and potato chips
There isn’t a ton of sugar in salty snacks like chips and crackers, so they should be safe for teeth, right? Not so fast. These snacks are loaded with starch, which turns into sugar. What’s more, they tend to get trapped in and between kids’ teeth and feed the bacteria in tooth plaque.
“It’s the stickiness of these starchy foods that allows them to sit on your teeth for long periods of time,” says Lazarus. “The longer that teeth are exposed to the food, the easier it is for cavities to form.”
Dr. Araghi agrees. “Crackers and potato chips are very retentive and hard to remove during brushing as these foods tend to stick into the grooves of teeth.” After eating chips or crackers, make sure your kid brushes and flosses to ensure they remove all the particles that are stuck on and between their teeth.
Pickled cucumbers, or any pickled vegetable, can promote tooth decay because of the vinegar that’s used in the pickling process. Vinegar has a low pH of 2.4, around the same acidity as lemons. And acetic acid in vinegar is known to weaken dental enamel, lead to loss of tooth minerals, and promote tooth decay.
“Vinegar can erode your tooth enamel, making your teeth weaker and more susceptible to cavities,” says Lazarus.
Pickle-obsessed kids love eating them alone as a snack, but enjoyed inside a sandwich or burger is safer, as they’ll have less contact with teeth that way.
As a snack, popcorn is a super-healthy choice (when it’s not loaded with butter, oil or salt). It’s made from whole grain corn, is high in fibre and contains beneficial antioxidants. But popcorn can be surprisingly problematic for kids’ teeth—although not due to decay.
Treats have basically replaced snacks—and that’s really bad for kids “Popcorn is a problem when is gets stuck under the gums,” says Lazarus. “It can lead to gum infection rather than tooth decay.”
Have dental floss handy after your kids eat popcorn to ensure there are no kernel fragments stuck between their teeth.
5. Ice cubes
Ice cubes are obviously not an actual snack, but lots of kids love chewing on them, and a parent couldn’t be blamed for thinking it’s an innocuous activity. Turns out, it’s not.
“Chewing on ice can weaken teeth, causing them to chip or fracture,” says Lazarus. What’s more, those small cracks or fractures can act as an entry point for bacteria, which increases the risk of cavities and increases tooth sensitivity.
6. Gummy lunch-bag snacks
Many gummy snacks are marketed as healthy lunch-box options since they may contain actual fruit. Don’t be fooled—they’re still loaded with sugar and are prone to sticking to teeth. And the sour kind are a triple whammy for tooth decay. “Sour gummies are one of the worst snacks due to the combination of acidity, stickiness and sugar,” says Lazarus.
And on the topic of gummy snacks, are your kids taking gummy multivitamins? Sorry, those count as candy too. They are usually made with glucose syrup or sucrose, which are fancy names for sugar. If your kids chew or suck one every morning, they could be harming their teeth. Look for sugar-free versions instead.