Confused about which foods your child can and can't have when they have a mouthful of metal? We have answers!

By Sally Kuzemchak
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Does it seem like kids are getting braces younger and younger these days? Yep, it's a thing: The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) now recommends that children be seen for an evaluation by age 7. Some kids are getting an early phase of orthodontia in the elementary years—then a second phase later on.

If your child is slated to get braces, or already has them, and you're wondering what that means for what they can and can't eat, we got some answers from orthodontist Brent Larson, DDS, president of AAO:

My child just got his braces and is in pain. What can I feed him?

His teeth will be sensitive for the first few days, so give him foods that require little to no chewing, like soup, chili, smoothies, and ice cream. He can also have soft foods like pasta, eggs, oatmeal, and bananas, says Larson. After a few days, that sensitivity will decrease and he can get back to a normal diet.

Is there anything that's totally off-limits when you have braces?

Some foods can actually cause braces to bend or even break--and broken braces can mean your child's teeth stop moving where they're supposed to go (or may move in the wrong direction). At the very least, bent or broken braces could mean your child's treatment takes longer. Common culprits are hard, crunchy stuff, like whole apples or carrots (those should be cut into smaller pieces). Biting into chewy, crusty bread can be tough on dental work too. Ditto for sticky foods. "I cringe when I think about a patient with braces chewing a candy like caramels, which can pull braces off teeth," says Larson. If you or your child spots anything broken or out of place with their braces, call the orthodontist for a repair ASAP.

What foods are especially hard to clean out of braces?

One of the trickiest is corn on the cob (Larson recommends cutting it off the cob first). Biting meat off the bone (like chicken wings or drumsticks) can make for a challenging cleaning session too, so cut those off too before serving.

Is there a food that people with braces think they CAN'T have—but they actually can?

Popcorn! As long as you carefully eat it (avoiding the un-popped kernels) and clean your braces after you're done to brush out those pesky hulls, it's a perfectly fine snack, says Larson.

What's the worst food or drink for my kids' teeth in general?

Surprise: sports drinks! Larson says that their low pH level makes them acidic, and they can erode tooth enamel by pulling out the enamel's calcium. That softens the tooth, making it vulnerable to cavities. Same goes for flavored carbonated waters, which can erode tooth enamel. And even though kids love them, sour candies are not only sticky but they're also acidic, so they're bad for tooth health as well.

How about the best?

Exactly what you'd expect: Fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. They're all good for your kid's teeth and gums--and their overall health too.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

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