Tap for strong teeth

Health roundup

Want some easy ways to protect your children’s teeth? If they crave a sports drink, use a straw. Then, give them some water, straight from the tap.

First, we’ll explain the tap water: As the amount of bottled water consumed in the U.S. has increased (up 200 percent in the past decade), kids have been drinking less of a key ingredient found in tap water: fluoride.

Fluoride ingested through tap water gets incorporated right into children’s tooth enamel, making their choppers much more decay resistant.

“You can’t get that just by brushing their teeth with fluoride toothpaste,” says Dr. Patricia Meredith, a spokeswoman for the Academy of General Dentistry. Children benefit most from drinking fluoridated water, she says, because their teeth are still developing.

The academy’s journal, General Dentistry, recently published a study examining more than 100 different bottled water brands, from purified to flavored. Almost all of the waters, including ones that boasted to have added fluoride, fell below the recommended levels of fluoride.

If drinking tap water isn’t an option, Meredith says, parents can use the Internet to find the fluoride content in their favorite brand of bottled water, or have a sample tested. Once parents know the amount of fluoride their children are consuming, they can talk to their dentist about providing the correct dose of fluoride supplement for their children.

As for sports drinks, a New York University College of Dentistry study confirmed what dentists have known for years: the acidity and sugar in sports drinks can cause enamel erosion, similar to the effect of soda. Less enamel means more tooth decay and greater sensitivity.

The researchers soaked cow’s teeth (which, interestingly, closely resemble human teeth) in drinks such as Gatorade for more than an hour to simulate sipping over the course of a day. The teeth showed significant erosion and softening.

The quicker a child can drink a sports drink, the better, says Dr. Indru Punwani, head of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Enamel can actually rebuild itself 40 minutes or so after teeth are inundated with food or drink. But, enamel can’t recover if children sip the sports drink for hours on end.

This is why using a straw is also helpful, because the sports drink bypasses teeth altogether, Punwani says. Kids should drink water after sports drinks, as well, to help wash out the mouth. Tap water, preferably.

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