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N.C. Dentists: Healthy School Lunches Good for Children’s Teeth

With the start of the new school year, it’s time for parents to think about healthy kids’ lunches. “Whether you pack your child’s lunch or they eat in their school’s cafeteria, it’s important to make healthy eating choices that benefit overall and oral health,” says Dr. Deborah Aten, a Charlotte, N.C., dentist. More than 1.4 million children will be starting school in North Carolina in a couple of weeks and more than half (847,000) will be served lunch and about a third (330,000) get breakfast at school. “Thanks to new nutrition standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, meals at school are healthier than ever, “ says Dr. Aten. “Students and their parents are also being encouraged to make smarter food choices.” “Your body is a complex machine and the foods you choose and how often you eat them can affect your overall health and the health of your teeth and gums. Consuming too many sugar-filled sodas, sweetened fruit drinks or non-nutritious snacks can put you at risk for tooth decay which is the most common chronic childhood disease,” says Dr. Aten. “The good news is that cavities are entirely preventable.” School meals now include more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy products, lower sodium foods and less saturated fat. “Parents should talk to their children about the changes in the meals served at school, plus prepare healthier meals and snacks for them to take with them,” adds Dr. Aten. “The days of the tried-and-true peanut butter and jelly sandwich are gone, but there are tons of great school lunch suggestions available to parents on the Internet,” says Dr. Aten. “Alternatives such as tuna salad, chicken and fruit salad, turkey-melon wraps, honey-lime drumsticks, turkey-meatball pitas are not only good for you and your teeth, kids love them. There are easy recipes on the web.” “Snacking is hard to resist, but kids can do their mouth a favor by watching the amount of soda, juice or other sweetened beverages they drink during the day. It’s always better to choose snacks such as fruit, low-fat cheese, yogurt or raw vegetables,” says Dr. Aten. “And if you chew gum, make sure it’s sugarless.”
Dr. Aten also urges children to drink more water during the school day. “Not only are students going to be thirstier because of activity at school, water helps hydrate and cleanse the mouth, removing food and reducing bacteria that can cause decay. Most schools provide water pitchers and cups on lunch tables, or a faucet or water fountain where children can fill their own water bottles.”Kids with braces should pay special attention to what they eat. “Your dentist may recommend that young patients avoid certain foods that can interfere with braces or accidently bend the wires. These may include nuts, popcorn, hard candy, ice and sticky foods such as chewing gum, caramel or other chewy candy.”
Additional information on oral healthy nutrition can be found at or Or visit the NCDA’s healthy choice website: The N.C. Dental Society represents 3,600 dentists throughout North Carolina. The NCDS encourages improvement of the oral health of the public, promotes the art and science of dentistry, sustains high standards of professional competence and practice, and represents the interests of the members of the dental profession and the public which it serves.