Pediatric dentist offers tips to keep teeth healthy over the summer

Active kids and sugary snacks can spell trouble for teeth during the summer.

Kids are out of school, with more opportunities to snack and play vigorously during the day. Many families are heading to the pool and on beach trips, playing outside and savoring salt water taffy and ice cream by the gallon.

nycu_summer_dental_sStephen C. Mitchell, D.M.D., a pediatric dentist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) offered tips to help maintain dental health over the summer – from what to eat and drink to what to do if a tooth is broken or knocked out.

Eating the right foods at the right times will help.

“Good snacks to eat include fresh fruits, nuts and starches like Cheez-it, pretzels, peanut butter crackers and Goldfish, but keep to specific snack times so kids aren’t constantly grazing,” Mitchell said. “Eating frequently throughout the day is hard on the teeth.” 

Mitchell recommends staying away from drinks like juices, sodas, sweet milks and sports drinks; any drink that has a calorie count higher than 10 should be something kids have no more than once a day. 

“Good drinks to have around for kids that fall below that 10-calorie limit include many flavored waters, Crystal Lite and many of the ‘Zero’ soda products,” Mitchell said. 

There are exceptions – particularly with sports drinks.

“If kids are playing summer sports where they are burning many calories and sweating a lot, they need to rehydrate,” Mitchell said. “This is where sports drinks have value.”  

He recommends parents consider lower-calorie versions such as Gatorade G2 or Powerade Zero, keeping the use of these drinks to rehydrating during and after strenuous activity. For other times, like at the beach or routine outside playing, keep other low-calorie drinks available. 

“Nothing rehydrates better than good old water,” he said.

Summertime also means recreation league baseball and lots of outside playtime for kids. Mitchell said if kids are having fun, there is always the risk of accidents that can damage teeth. 

“Collision injuries with a friend, the ground or side of a swimming pool definitely increase during the summer,” he said. “If something like this occurs, remember first and foremost to make sure your child does not have a head injury. If they have lost consciousness or are dizzy, or if they can’t remember how the injury happened, get medical attention and worry about the teeth later.” 

Once you are sure there are not medical issues, Mitchell said to think about the following:

  • If a tooth is broken, find the fragment and go immediately to the dentist.  This is especially true if the tooth appears to be bleeding from the middle and not just the gums.
  • If a tooth has been knocked out, the best thing to do is try to put it back in immediately. The site is normally numb immediately following an injury, so this should not hurt your child. If the tooth can be put back in the mouth within 30 minutes, chances of a full recovery are much better.
  • If the tooth cannot be put back in, place it in milk and go immediately to the dentist. Try to not touch the root of the tooth, and do not clean it other than gently running it under water.  
  • If a tooth has been moved out of its normal location, have your child seen immediately by the dentist.

Mitchell added that summer is a great time to schedule check-ups for children. 

“Don’t wait until the last two weeks of summer because appointments can get very scarce,” he said. “Plan ahead for the best flexibility in appointments.”

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