They may be known as “nature’s candy,” but dentists say raisins are not much different from traditional candy when it comes to kids’ teeth. In fact, chips and popcorn make a better snack.
“Chips don’t have natural sugar in them, they have to be converted to sugar, so from a tooth decay standpoint, raisins would be more detrimental,” says Dr. Larry Levin, president of the Canadian Dental Association.
Dried fruit, like raisins, is very sticky and as such, has a better chance of finding its way into the little spaces between the teeth and gums, and is less likely to be naturally washed away by saliva. But it’s not just the dried variety that could spell trouble.
“Even fresh fruit can be problematic,” Levin says. “It’s softer [than dried fruit] and is more likely to be washed away by the normal action of the tongue, lips and saliva, but if you’re doing anything in a regular manner — if you love mangoes and eat them all day — that’ll produce a problem for you.”
That’s because while the sugars in fruit are natural, they still act the same way on teeth as the sugars added to sweets.
“Plaque has a bacterial coating on its surface and that bacteria uses sugar to produce an acid that causes cavities,” he explains.
Acidic fruits can also pose a problem when consumed in excess, because the acidic environment they produce in the mouth can dissolve some of the enamel off the surface of teeth. And while saliva can act as a natural buffer to help neutralize the acid, if you consume a lot of citrus (like sipping lemon water all day), your saliva won’t be able to keep up.
In particular, parents should avoid giving kids anything sticky and that contains sugar to snack on, which includes any variety of dried fruit (including items like fruit roll-ups), pressed nut bars that contain chocolate and sweetened items, and candy.
“The stickier and more adherent the material is, the bigger the problem, especially because kids are reluctant [or simply cannot] brush and floss after lunch. If you’re at home and you’re supervising your kids, making sure that they clean their teeth after they eat, then none of the foods are a problem,” Levin says.
Unlike in the U.K., where tooth extractions of preschool children have increased by 24 per cent in the last 10 years, there hasn’t necessarily been an upswing in the reports of tooth decay in children in Canada, which Levin largely attributes to the addition of fluoride to the drinking water in some municipalities. But he does say that parents are now strongly encouraged to take their kids to the dentist from the time their first tooth comes in.
“It’s important to start the process of check-ups early, and to learn the best techniques to help take care of little kids’ teeth, so they can grow into adults with no cavities.”