picture of boy smiling and eating sandwich: the best for for kids teeth in the lunchbox

What You Need to Know About Packing a Tooth Friendly Lunchbox

 In this interview with the amazing Dr Samantha Byrne, former dentist and lecturer in Oral Microbiology at The Melbourne University we talk healthy teeth habits and all the best food for kid’s teeth to pack in their lunchboxes. Sam is Mum to three boys and has an amazing and informative instagram account @_the_tooth_fairy_ that you need to follow…but first read this helpful interview!

Before we talk about the best food for kid’s teeth in the lunchbox, let’s talk about you!

Your role sounds really interesting – what attracted you to the dentistry field and what do you enjoy most about it?

I always loved science at school, and also loved working with my hands so I thought dentistry would be a good mix of both. After working as a dentist for 4 years I decided to give up clinical dentistry and do a PhD in oral microbiology as that was the area I found most interesting.

My work days are a wonderful mix of laboratory research and teaching at the Melbourne Dental School. In the lab we are investigating the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum diseases and I really enjoy the combination of problem solving and discovery. When I am teaching, my students are learning about oral diseases and most importantly, how they can help their patients prevent them which is very satisfying to be a part of.

picture of tooth brush and model of teeth The Best Food for Kid's Teeth in the Lunchbox

Why is good oral hygiene important? 

Our mouths are filled with lots of different microorganisms, mostly bacteria. Many of these help keep us healthy. However, when they grow on our teeth as dental plaque, some of these bacteria are able to cause tooth decay and gum diseases.

Tooth decay is a preventable disease however in Australia almost half of all 6 year olds have decay in their baby teeth. This can result in pain, infection requiring antibiotics, difficulty eating and time off kindergarten and school.

Maintaining good oral hygiene by removing dental plaque with thorough regular tooth brushing is an important step in preventing oral diseases.

We also know that good oral health is important for good general health.

How have you developed good oral hygiene practices in your own family?

My children (ages 5, 7 and 11) have learnt about how important it is to brush their teeth to prevent tooth decay from a very young age so regular tooth brushing is now a habit that fits easily into our daily routine. There are some lovely books available for different ages that help reinforce the importance of oral hygiene.

But it can be tricky getting to this point! Teeth should be brushed twice a day; after breakfast and before bed. Wrestling to clean teeth however isn’t a great start to a calm bedtime, particularly when children are very little! Introducing tooth cleaning as soon as teeth are present in the mouth and trying to make it fun can help. Teeth, nappy, story, bed worked as a good routine for us.

The stubborn toddler stage might need some gentle negotiation where perhaps they have a go of brushing your teeth or teddy’s teeth before you do theirs, and lots of praise helps but my one rule is that teeth will always be brushed!

picture of small child brushing their teeth: The Best Food for Kid's Teeth in the Lunchbox
Teeth should be brushed twice a day; after breakfast and before bed. Wrestling to clean teeth however isn’t a great start to a calm bedtime, particularly when children are very little! Introducing tooth cleaning as soon as teeth are present in the mouth and trying to make it fun can help.

There is a lot of focus about moving away from refined sugar, are other sugars actually any better for our teeth?

This is a really good question. Tooth decay is caused by bacteria in our mouth turning the sugar we eat into acid. This acid causes damage by dissolving the calcium and phosphate mineral from teeth. Over time if this damage is not repaired holes will form in the teeth.

The bacteria in the mouth are not fussy and will turn just about any sugar we give them into acid. This means that not only refined sugar but sugar in fruit juice, honey, maple syrup, rice malt syrup, coconut sugar, pureed dates etc will all be turned into acid. So no, none of these sugars are any better for our teeth.

picture of alternate sugars: The Best Food for Kid's Teeth in the Lunchbox
Think honey or maple syrup are a better choice for kids’ teeth? Dr Sam Byrnes informs us that the bacteria in the mouth are not fussy and will turn just about any sugar we give them into acid.

Now we have all been waiting for this! What do you recommend as the best food for kid’s teeth in the lunchbox?

Tooth friendly foods are low in sugar, promote chewing (which increases saliva flow to help protect teeth) and contain calcium and phosphate (to help repair damage). So my top tooth friendly lunchbox items are:

Water 

Water helps wash away acids after eating, and keeps children hydrated which helps with healthy saliva flow. Saliva helps remove acid from the mouth but also contains lots of calcium and phosphate. Having plenty of saliva around helps repair and protect teeth from tooth decay.

picture of child drinking water, one of The Best Food for Kid's Teeth in the Lunchbox
Water helps wash away acids after eating, and keeps children hydrated which helps with healthy saliva flow.

 Vegetables

Carrot, cucumber, celery, capsicum, peas, beans – whatever is cheap and in season. Raw vegetables are low in sugar and need lots of chewing which are both great for teeth. Instead of fruit for their morning snack (we call ours ‘brain food’ at school but others call it ‘morning fruit’) I always pack vegetables for the boys.

Whole fruit

Liquid or sticky sugar is associated with tooth decay, so whole fruit is the tooth friendly way to eat fruit rather than juices, fruit leather or bars.

fruit in a lunchbox: The Best Food for Kid's Teeth in the Lunchbox

Cheese

Unsweetened dairy contains lots of calcium, phosphate and protein. These all help to repair tooth mineral and protect from tooth decay.

Popcorn

Low in sugar, high in fun, cheap and easy. Air-popped popcorn ticks all the boxes!

picture of natural popcorn the best for for kids teeth in the lunchbox
Popcorn is a great addition to the lunchbox. To make popcorn quickly at home, in a brown paper bag add 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels. Fold over the top of the bag to seal. Microwave for around 1.50 seconds, depending on your microwave.

Picture of Dr Sam Byrne who provides her insight into the best foods for kids teeth in the lunchbox

Dr Samantha Byrne is a former dentist and an awarded lecturer of Oral Microbiology at The Melbourne University. She adores her Dad’s homemade lasagne which brings back all her childhood memories of mealtimes together. Sam loves to drink water but cannot live without coffee. Dr Byrne also loves anything crafty, loves to knit and once made 70 costumes for a school performance! #SuperMum

Sam is an avid reader but finds it pretty hard to choose her favourite book. It is a tough call between Wuthering Heights and Romeo and Juliet. She also loves to share the Harry Potter books with her three boys who are 11, 7 and 5.

A big thank you to our favourite Tooth Fairy for her expert advice in this blog post about the best food for kid’s teeth in the lunchbox. Remember to follow on instagram @_the_tooth_fairy_ and get lots of valuable information about looking after our teeth!

If you loved this helpful resource, all about the best food for kid’s teeth in their lunchboxes, you will love to read my blog post all about getting vegetables into the lunchbox or easy school lunch ideas your kids will love to eat. Also connect with me on instagram or facebook and come and say hi!

Happy brushing,

Bernadette x

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