This Quarter’s Theme: Well-being

Tooth Talk Expert Helps You Share Healthy Snacks Ideas with Parents

Question: The parents in my program are asking me about healthy snacks for their children. What are your recommendations?

Healthy snacks benefit not only children’s teeth but also their overall health, building strong bones and muscles and boosting brain development, according to Alice S. Ammerman, DrPH, RD, Director for the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and Professor, Department of Nutrition at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health and School of Medicine.

“Snacks are really important for small children because they are a fairly substantial part of a toddler’s diet simply because most kids don’t just sit down to three regular meals a day. They eat more often, usually snacking throughout the day, so that makes it even more important to make sure snacks are healthy. Small children are natural neophobes–they are afraid to try new things. Broadening the snack menu trains toddlers to be open-minded about trying new things, which helps them in every way.

Dr. Ammerman lists the healthy snacks toddlers should be eating: cheese, raw fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, crackers and chips, yogurt and eggs. But she knows it can be hard to get kids to eat these foods. Here are some creative tips:

  • Get Dipping: Kids love to manipulate things with their fingers. Give them thinly sliced carrots, turnips and celery to dip in yogurt or salad dressing. Remember, think raw foods–little ones prefer raw veggies over cooked ones. Crackers and whole grain breads are fun to dip in a bean spread or cottage cheese. Dip banana slices in yogurt, then in crushed cereal and freeze.
  • Get Creative: Kids are more likely to eat food if it’s in a fun animal or face shape. Use a cute cookie cutter to cut shapes out of fruit slices and bread. Create a face with a round thin slice of turnip smeared with peanut butter with raisins for eyes and a matchstick carrot strip for the mouth.
  • Get Kids Involved: Research has found that children who help grow or prepare food are more likely to try new tastes. Plant a veggie garden or visit a farmers’ market. Invite kids to help prepare their own snacks, counting out cheese cubes or grape pieces.

Dr. Ammerman shares additional tips about nutritious food choices:

  • Avoid sticky candies and, of course, soft drinks.
  • If a child says she’s hungry, try very cold water first. Oftentimes, a perpetual grazer can be satisfied with a nice cold drink of water.
  • Busy parents can make snacking easy by keeping in the fridge little bags or containers of healthy foods, prepped and ready to grab and go: small, thinly cut carrots (which stay fresher sitting in cold water), cubes of cheese and chopped up fruit. This excellent strategy helps avoid the costly temptations (in dollars, calories and tooth health) of fast food, junk food and candy.
  • Avoid extra sugars and chemicals by buying full-fat dressings and yogurt instead of low-fat or fat-free versions.
  • Remember, cut up all foods into small bites to prevent choking. Of course, the best plan is not to leave very small children alone when they’re eating.

To see other Ask the Expert posts, click here.

This Quarter’s Theme: Well-being

New Tooth Talk Video Reveals Everything You Wanted to Know About Fluoride                 (but were afraid to ask!)

In this Internet age, there’s a lot of information floating around about fluoride. At the stroke of a key, thousands of articles, blogs and video clips provide all you want to know about this natural mineral. Or, maybe not. It can be hard to cull the information and get to the truth of this beneficial mineral found everywhere on planet Earth, including in many of our foods.

To learn the truth about fluoride and its beneficial effects on teeth, click on the short, helpful video “All About Fluoride.”

To see other short, helpful videos about children’s dental health, click on the Videos tab in the menu.

This Quarter’s Theme: Well-being

Tooth Talk Helps You Succeed with Special Needs Kids

Did you know…

According to the Maternal and Child Health Bureau 2013 report, more than 11 million US children and adolescents (15.1%) have special healthcare needs.

According to the Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health, more of these kids have seen a dentist within the last 12 months than those without special needs (83.5% vs. 76%) yet this group has twice the prevalence of unmet oral health care needs?            

While all kids deserve beautiful, healthy smiles, when it comes to tooth health, there are a lot of considerations for children with special healthcare needs (SHCN)–from motor function to mouth care, medications to special diets. Bottom line, poor oral health can have a disastrous effect on children with existing health challenges.

The top 3 things you can do to support the kids in your program with special needs are:

  1. Encourage parents to find a dental home.
  2. Help parents understand their rights. All children enrolled in Medicaid are entitled to comprehensive oral health care. Title V requires that the state earmark at least 30% of its federal budget allocation for services for children with special needs.
  3. Keep parents informed of tooth health milestones: brush twice a day with a smear of fluoride toothpaste at the appearance of the first tooth, eat healthy foods, eliminate sugary drinks, take advantage of sealants and fluoride varnish, and use specially modified or electric toothbrushes if a child’s physical ability requires special tools. Remember, while tap water is good for kids, it’s recommended that children under age 6 months drink no water, and to limit water for those under age 1. Milk and formula are best for babies.

For more on tooth health for kids with special needs, see the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center tip sheet here.

What’s your dental health New Year’s resolution for 2015? Share Your Opinion by clicking here.


This Quarter’s Theme: Well-being

Tooth Talk Answers Your Questions About the Dental Health Benefits of Water

Question: I’ve noticed some of the parents of toddlers and young preschool children in my program rarely consider water as an acceptable drink for their children. Can you give me some tips for persuading them to think water first?

According to Gary Rozier, DDS, Professor of Health Policy and Management, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, drinking water straight from the tap is important to a child’s overall good health. “A study published in the journal Pediatrics in September 2014 reported that the prevalence of obesity in 6-year-old children was twice as great among children who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages during infancy compared to those who didn’t (17.0% vs 8.6%).

“This study adds to the growing evidence that sugary beverages are linked to increased calories, weight gain and related health conditions, creating a growing public health crisis. According to the latest national statistics 66% of children 2 to 11 years of age consume sugary beverages: primarily soda for adolescents and fruit drinks for children.

“Guidelines for Early Head Start and early childcare settings limit the amount of juice and other sugary beverages. Some programs have eliminated juice altogether. Water is an important substitute for these beverages in early education settings and public schools, and “drink more water” campaigns are springing up in some parts of the country, with support from recent recommendations from The Caring for Our Children, 3rd edition (CFOC3). However, these recommendations specify no water for children younger than 6 months and only limited water up to age 1; formula and milk are best for the under-1 age group. That’s why it’s even more important to brush with fluoride toothpaste with the appearance of the first tooth, because many children under age 1 aren’t getting much beneficial fluoride from water.

“The most common chronic disease in preschool children is tooth decay. In NC, more than one-third of children have experienced tooth decay by the time they enroll in kindergarten; more than half of Hispanic children. Substituting water for sugar-sweetened beverages can not only cut empty calories, but also reduce tooth decay by eliminating the sugar that leads to dental problems.

“Water also is healthy and can actually protect the teeth from decay. Most public water systems in North Carolina have fluoride added as per CDC recommendations. About 88% of North Carolinians using community water systems (6.2 million people) have access to fluoridated water.   Simply by drinking water from the tap, most North Carolinians can help prevent tooth decay at no added expense. Studies show that water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by about 25 percent over a person’s lifetime.

“Although widespread, some children in early education programs might not be getting enough fluoride because their home drinking water is not fluoridated (well water). Some people also like to substitute bottled water for tap water. Most bottled water does not have fluoride, but it is difficult to tell because the regulating governmental authority does not require that fluoride be listed on the label.

“So, our recommendation is to ‘Drink more water out of the tap and not the bottle!’ It’s free, affordable and helps fight tooth decay thanks to fluoride.”

For more about bottled water, visit

Interested in Expert opinions on everything from pregnancy and tooth health to the importance of baby teeth? Visit the Ask the Expert tab in the menu.

To see the short, helpful videos on fluoride varnish and toothpaste recommendations, click the Videos tab in the menu.