Protecting your kids’ pearly whites isn’t just crucial to keeping their smiles bright. More and more studies suggest that fostering oral health can help calm inflammation throughout the body and, in turn, stave off serious health problems (including heart disease). So as soon as your child’s teeth appear, start cleaning them with a soft-bristled brush at least twice a day. At age six, switch to a fluoride toothpaste (using just a pea-sized dollop to keep kids from swallowing too much toothpaste and staining their teeth). Make sure to floss after brushing, and take your children for dental check-ups twice yearly.
As you help your kids’ build good hygiene habits, size up their diets and cut back on cavity-promoting foods like cookies, cake, and candy. In addition to curbing their overall intake of sugar-packed foods, try to monitor the number of times children are allowed to indulge in sweet treats each day. Since eating the refined carbohydrates found in candy makes the mouth more acidic (and, as a result, creates an environment where cavity-causing bacteria can thrive), limiting the frequency with which your kids gnaw on sugary foods can leave their mouths less bacteria-friendly in the long run.
As you scale back on sugar, try piling more cavity-fighting foods onto your kids’ plates. Along with calcium-rich goods like low-fat yogurt and cheese, focus on firm fruits and veggies (known to rev up the flow of saliva and guard against acid buildup). A recent study from the Harvard Medical School also shows that getting your fill of polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in fish and nuts) may help ease inflammation and help prevent gum disease.