The song, “Summertime” with lyrics by George Gershwin was written well before I was born, but I can still sing (at least as best as I can sing at all) almost all the words, and I love the melody and the “feel” of the song. For me, it truly does capture what I dream of when I think of summer!
For many adults, summer represents lots of fun and relaxation and perhaps a vacation or two – playing in the water, frequently with their kids, and sometimes simply laying in a hammock.
For kids, it often represents two to three months of NO school! That may involve later bed times, sleeping in, goofing off, less studying and more time for snacking and enjoying cold beverages.... OOOPS!
Sorry, but this is where reality and being a dentist sneaks in!! I’m all in favor of good snacks and beverages – whether they are for big or little kids (and I believe we ALL need to let ourselves be a kid now and then!) However, I want to encourage each of you to take care of your selves while you are being a “kid” as well as taking care of your actual kids.
We dentists see a big jump in cavities whenever there is a jump in between-meal snacks and beverages. So what’s the best way to keep that from happening? Brush more often (especially with a fluoridated toothpaste), clean between your teeth more often, and even vigorous rinsing several times during the day helps prevent problems from happening.
Perhaps even more important than cleaning your mouth is being careful what you put in your mouth in the first place. Let’s look at snacks first, and then beverages. I look at three different factors about snacks:
- How retentive are they?
- How much sugar and / acid is in them?
- How “natural” are they?
Retentiveness has to do with how long the food remains in your mouth after you eat it. Snacks such as strawberries, carrot sticks, and celery aren’t very retentive. On the other hand snack bars, such as “Cliff Bars”, stick to your teeth and hang around in your mouth a long time. Thus LESS retentive is good.
You don’t need to be a dentist to figure out that more sugar and more acidity are problems for teeth, so avoid them. Fresh fruit may be somewhat high in acid and sugar, but that is balanced by the other properties of the fruit. Crackers aren’t acidic at all, may be high in sugar (or not, depending on the brand), but they are extremely retentive. Darn it, this isn’t as easy as you thought it might be, huh?
Then we add “natural”. While lots of people get caught up in “natural” being better than “refined” or “processed”, with what is allowed in advertising today, I don’t trust those words. I am a HUGE fan of label reading. What is or isn’t added to what you are buying? Fresh, raw fruits and vegetables are a great place to start – I believe they are almost always better snacks than refined stuff. But some of the refined materials still make OK snacks – read the labels -- frequently! It’s amazing how the product that you’ve bought for years suddenly changes – and often not for the better. Suddenly sugar (and sugar substitutes) and other ingredients (often chemicals) are added when they weren’t there before. By the way, sugar is often included in labels under a variety of names, often ending in “ose” such as dextrose, etc. That allows the manufacturer to put lots more sugar in their product without it being apparent.
Now that I (hopefully) have created a bit of healthy paranoia, let’s switch to beverages. Simply, water, right out of the faucet, is your best bet. There is no sugar added, and it is a great neutralizer to minimize the effects of sugar and acidity that may have arrived from anything else you have eaten or drank. It even helps rinse those more retentive snacks out of your mouth.
Are you and your kids always going to want water? Probably not, but it would be great if we all did! Almost ALL adult beverages are acidic. Yes, that’s true of wine and beer as well. Most mixed drinks are acidic AND sugary. Consuming them quickly versus sipping over a period of hours is far better dentally. (This is emphatically NOT an excuse to binge drink!!) Again, rinsing your mouth with water and alternating a glass of water with an adult beverage benefits you in MANY ways!) Pop or soda (whether sugar or sugar-free) and sports drinks are almost never good for you or your kids – again, read the labels. If you do consume one, don’t brush right away – RINSE with water. It helps eliminate the acid in your mouth and lets your saliva buffer that acidity so you don’t scrub away weakened tooth structure.
So, have a GREAT summer...and enjoy a treat every now and then. Moderation is almost always a good rule to live by. Use it to guide activities, rest, snacks, beverages, being with good friends, and some simple relaxation napping in a hammock! ENJOY!