What your child drinks on a daily basis has an effect on their long-term oral health.
Your child’s diet has a big impact on their general health as well as their oral health. A diet that’s nutritious and based around a variety of fresh whole foods is just as beneficial for their smile as it is for their body. Beverages make up an important category of nutrition in your child’s diet and learning what is in a lot of kid’s drinks can help you make the best choices for them.
What your child drinks can have a positive or negative effect on their oral health. By offering your child healthy beverage options during the day and limiting less healthy choices, you’ll make great strides in preventing tooth decay and enamel erosion.
Kid’s Drinks That Are Great as Daily Staples
These kid’s drinks are ideal staple beverages for young ones of all ages. They don’t encourage tooth decay or enamel erosion. Generally speaking, your child can have free access to all of these options without worry.
Water is at the top of the list of healthy beverages, but the average kid doesn’t drink enough. Studies show that over half of the kids in the U.S. are dehydrated due to the simple fact that they aren’t drinking enough water.
Fresh drinking water is your child’s best friend when it comes to protecting their smile and their overall health. As far as the beneficial effects on your child’s oral health, staying hydrated keeps teeth surfaces clean and promotes healthy saliva production by preventing dry mouth.
Unlike all other beverages, water is fine to drink at bedtime after your child has already brushed their teeth.
One of the first nutritional facts kids learn is the power of milk and how it helps support strong bones. Milk is also a smile-friendly drink that supports optimal oral health, making it a great choice to accompany meals or snacks during the day.
Milk is gentle on the teeth, and the calcium it provides helps form important building blocks for strong teeth. Low-fat or 2% milk is highly recommended.
3. Unsweetened Dairy Alternatives
For kids with dietary restrictions, unsweetened dairy alternatives are a wonderful substitute for milk. These options include almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, oat milk, etc. Take care to read the nutritional labels on these drinks, as many sneak in different forms of sugar.
Unsweetened milk substitutes lack calcium and other important minerals found in milk. You can prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies by offering your child a varied diet and a daily multivitamin recommended by their pediatrician.
4. Unsweetened Green Tea
You might be surprised to see that unsweetened green tea has made the list! Unlike its cousin black tea, green tea has a number of health benefits. Research shows that unsweetened green tea’s antioxidants and flavonoids lower acidity in saliva, reduce gum inflammation, and help prevent tooth decay.
Kids can enjoy unsweetened green tea as a daily beverage as long as it’s a caffeine-free variety!
Kid’s Drinks That Are a Middle-of-the-Road Choice
These beverages aren’t the best choice, but your child can enjoy them in moderation without harming their oral health.
1. Unsweetened Fruit Juice
Kids love fruit juice, but unfortunately, the majority of fruit juices aren’t a smile-friendly choice. Many fruit juices on grocery store shelves are loaded with sugar and natural acids.
Unsweetened, 100% natural fruit juice can be a nice treat as long as your child only has about 6 ounces a day. Parents who are gradually transitioning their child to water as a staple may have luck diluting their child’s unsweetened juice with water over time.
2. Unsweetened Black Tea
Unsweetened iced tea isn’t quite as beneficial as unsweetened green tea, as it lacks the same oral health benefits. Black tea is also more abrasive on tooth enamel (staining) compared to green tea. However, a glass of homemade unsweetened iced tea can be a nice change of pace for kids who want something other than water.
There are plenty of tasty flavored black teas, like raspberry or peach, that can really appeal to kids. Whichever variety you choose, look for caffeine-free versions without any sort of added sweeteners.
3. Sparkling Water
At first glance, sparkling water seems to be a great choice, especially varieties that are flavored but sugar-free. The truth is sparkling water isn’t quite the smile-friendly option it seems to be. The carbonation effect kids love can actually cause some minor wear on tooth enamel. Many brands of sparkling water also have hidden sugars and sometimes even citric acid.
Always read the labels and stick to plain, unflavored sparkling water whenever possible.
Kid’s Drinks That Should Be Restricted or Avoided
These beverages are harmful to your child’s oral health, especially when they become a staple drink of choice. Entirely avoiding these kid’s drinks may not be reasonable for many families, but you can restrict them to only very special occasions.
1. Sweetened Fruit Juice
Any health benefits associated with unsweetened fruit juice go out the window when it comes to sweetened varieties. The majority of juices on grocery store shelves are loaded with sugar, including many products marketed for kids (i.e. juice boxes). The combination of sugar and fruit acid leads to tooth decay.
Sweetened fruit juice is just as tough on tooth enamel as soda, meaning it should be limited just as much as you’d limit soda. We recommend kicking sweetened fruit juice to the curb; this will benefit your child’s smile and body. When your child is craving a fruity drink, opt for a small glass of unsweetened fruit juice instead.
2. Sweetened Iced Tea
Similar to sweetened fruit juice, sweetened iced tea can harm your child’s smile. The added sugars are exactly what tooth decay bacteria thrive on.
Be especially cautious of sweetened iced tea that comes in a can. Lemonade also falls into this no-no category.
3. Energy Drinks
Energy drinks are often labeled as an adult beverage for ages 18 and older due to their high caffeine levels. Even though energy drinks are much more accessible and even appealing to kids, thanks to fun flavors like cotton candy, it is best to avoid them completely.
4. Sports Drinks
Sports drinks are often seen as a healthy choice for very active kids, but the truth is the vast majority of sports drinks are no better than a bottle of soda. Sports drinks tend to have a lot of sugar, while sugar-free varieties are still quite harsh on tooth enamel.
If your child is very athletic and into sports, we recommend chatting with their pediatrician for advice on whether electrolytes supplements are necessary.
While water tops the list of best beverages, soda easily tops the list of worst in kid’s drinks. Its high sugar content, high calories, and a long list of artificial ingredients are enough to keep your child away from it. Diet soda, sugar-free soda, and even naturally-sweetened soda are still harmful to tooth enamel and promote tooth decay.
Soda is best saved as a very special treat enjoyed on big occasions, such as a birthday or during a family event.
Have more questions about kids’ nutrition and oral health?
If you have questions about how your child’s diet plays a role in achieving optimal oral health, we’re here to help! You can speak with our staff or book an appointment with your child’s pediatric dentist by calling our office or filling out this online form.