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Any food that contains sugar or starch can cause tooth decay by dissolving the protective enamel on your child's teeth. In fact, 90 percent of what kids eat (including foods like bread, cereal, and fruit, which are all essential to a healthy diet) contain sugars and starches that can lead to cavities. However, the real issue is not the amount of sugar or starch in a particular food, but how long it tends to remain on a child's teeth. For example, some of the most damaging foods are those that mash into the tops of the molars at the back of the mouth and don't dissolve quickly -- like gummy candy or starchy chips and crackers. Lollipops, juice, and soda are also major offenders since they douse teeth in sugar for minutes at a time. Surprisingly, chocolate may actually be good for your child's teeth, since it's been found to inhibit the growth of cavity-causing bacteria. In fact, dentists have even been suggesting that parents of milk-averse kids offer chocolate milk instead, so their children can still get the calcium they need. Calcium-rich cheese cubes or sticks are another great cavity-fighting snack, since they can actually stimulate the flow of saliva (a natural tooth cleaner) and neutralize the mouth acids that wear away enamel. --Richard Laliberte
Copyright © 2001. Reprinted with permission from the September 2001 issue of Parents magazine. Updated 2009
The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.