Balancing a bustling schedule of school, sports, social events, and other activities can be a challenge -- and it can also interfere with healthy eating, not to mention a tooth-friendly diet. That’s why it’s important to know what options are healthy, especially when you can’t brush your teeth after eating. Choosing foods that are healthy for your teeth is easier than you think, especially if you have some easy-to-make and/or grab on the way out the door options. In a pinch, there are a few quick bites that are simple enough to swing in and buy through the occasional drive-thru when you’re already out and about.
First things first: keep water on hand
For starters, consider what you have to drink with your snack or lunch. Water is always the optimal choice, especially when you won’t be able to brush your teeth after eating. The water will rinse your teeth and curb the damage done to the enamel. Be sure to limit or eliminate beverages that are very acidic, especially sports drinks and soda. If you don’t like water, try jazzing it up a bit by adding sliced up fruits, veggies, or herbs, and making infused water. Even though the fruits might raise the acid level somewhat, it’s still a much better option than sports drinks or soft drinks.
The best thing you can do is remember to drink water after every snack or meal, especially if you cannot brush your teeth. Keep water on hand and choose water whenever you can. Choices you could consider besides water include milk and tea.
Second, check for hidden sugars
Try to avoid foods with hidden sugars, like cereal bars, protein bars, and canned fruit. Instead, consider some of the following ideas for your lunch or snack away from home. We’ve broken it into categories so you can select what works best for you and your lifestyle.
Give a little thought to these grab-and-go delights and how they can be as easy as possible to grab on your way out the door. Pack them in containers, brown bags, sandwich baggies, thermoses, or whatever works best for you.
Nuts and seeds
First off, we have an easy, healthy snack -- nuts and seeds! Always a win, you can choose from a wide variety of these healthy little treats. Consider a blend of any of these popular choices:
Chia seeds (these are great sprinkled over yogurt or salads)
Not only are most of these full of protein and nutrients like calcium, vitamin E, magnesium, manganese, selenium, copper, folate, and iron but they also offer a great source of fiber for your body and a fantastic way to keep your teeth scrubbed clean when you aren’t able to brush. Be sure to keep a container of these in your locker or backpack for the days when snacks aren’t easy to grab.
Cheese sticks or string cheese
Cheese creates saliva in the mouth, which helps to rinse off the teeth after meals and snacks. It also has calcium in it, which replaces minerals and rebuilds enamel your teeth may have lost while consuming other foods.
Fish (like sardines, mackerel, salmon, or tuna)
These types of fish help the body absorb calcium, which makes teeth strong. They contain lots of vitamin D as well as omega-3’s. Note: Many brands make easy grab-and-go pouches full of protein-rich, seasoned salmon or tuna. Just tape a plastic or reusable spoon to the side of the packs and grab them on your way out the door! If you don’t like to eat fish by itself, just whip it into a tuna salad sandwich or toss it into a cold pasta salad instead.
Crispy, crunchy vegetables
Raw chopped celery sticks, carrots, cauliflower, snap peas, cucumbers, green or red peppers, and many more veggies help keep the teeth clean after eating by scouring them like a crunchy scrubber sponge in the mouth. Fruits like crunchy apples are also helpful. These are easy to keep these on hand for grab-and-go snacks every day. You may want to prep small containers of your favorite dip (try this healthy homemade dip) to take along with them.
Like cheese, yogurt is rich in calcium, but it’s also full of probiotic bacteria that are believed to fight plaque and gingivitis. We would recommend plain or low-sugar blended yogurt with your own fresh fruit added whenever there is time. Grab a pack or two of yogurt with spoons at the ready to toss in lunches or to grab on your way to practice. Chobani Less Sugar Greek Yogurts taste delicious as do Siggi’s, but plain is always best and that’s available in all brands -- even the cheap ones. Don’t forget to make sure that they contain live and active cultures and don’t have any added sugar for optimal health benefits!
Black tea & green tea
They may not be everyone’s favorite, but you might enjoy these teas when you find out the benefits. Green tea contains natural fluoride, and its antioxidants help maintain good periodontal health. (10) Polyphenols, found in both teas, control gum disease and cavities by slowing the types of bacteria that lead to it. University researchers noted that patients who rinse their mouths with black tea for one minute ten times a day had less plaque than those who used water. You could throw some tea bags into a backpack with a thermos of hot water to enjoy between lunch and study hall, or whenever you need to warm up and clean their teeth off! During the hot months, iced tea can be incredibly refreshing, just be sure not to load it with too much sugar! We’d recommend limiting black tea, only because it may stain over time.
Brimming with vitamin D, especially in their yolks, eggs assist the body with absorbing calcium and phosphate. These are vital to tooth enamel. Eggs also can help prevent ailments like enamel hypoplasia, as recent studies show it may be caused by a lack of vitamin A. Hard-boiled eggs or deviled eggs (like these unique, mayonnaise-free avocado deviled eggs) are easy to grab and go!
Throw some in a sandwich, munch on them raw, or lay down a bed of them underneath your tuna or pasta salad. Leafy greens take a lot to break down, so chewing them makes more saliva that washes off your teeth along the way.
Like we discussed earlier in regard to the teas, cranberries also contain polyphenols which the Journal, Caries Research, explains are helpful in preventing plaque and lowering the risk of cavities. Just be sure to enjoy them in their natural tart state -- masking with a bunch of sugar defeats the purpose.
Keep a few sticks of sugarless gum handy for times when you can’t brush your teeth. According to the American Dental Association,” chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals can help prevent decay.” ADA approves specifically of Extra, Eclipse, and Orbit gums according to recent reports based on studies by the Wrigley brand. Better yet, find gum or mints that are sweetened with xylitol to help kill the harmful bacteria.
When you have a few minutes to prep healthy snacks:
You can make countless different sandwiches or salads for a healthy lunch or snack. Just make sure to watch out for the hidden sugars and acids and try to make sure to rinse your mouth with water after all snacks and meals.
Tuna grinders (or sliders)
Make your own homemade tuna grinders, just like the ones at Subway or Panera (minus the ocean of mayonnaise). You could make smaller tuna sliders. Tuna salad stuffed tomatoes are always delicious as well if you want to skip the bread. Don’t forget that bread and crackers are often a huge source of sugar for harmful bacteria, so choose options that are whole grain with no added sugar for a healthier meal.
Baked Egg Muffins
Chock full of veggies and ready to grab on the way out of the door, these baked egg muffins call for eggs, milk, cheese, sausage, and veggies -- but no muffin mix or flour. All eggs, all day. Enjoy these any day of the week, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack!
DIY Protein Bistro Boxes
Make your own fancy protein bistro boxes modeled after these for quick, dentist-friendly, healthy snacks and lunches, ready to grab when you’re ready to go -- or eat them at home after school! Pack in the protein with chopped meats, hard-boiled eggs, greens, cranberries, yogurt, cheese chunks, crispy veggies, apples, grapes, and more. Containers with several compartments are perfect for these.
Mason Jar Veggie Salads
Chop up all the veggies you desire, layer them up (the recipe uses a mason jar but you could easily use a plastic baggie or Tupperware), and follow with a separate container of homemade dressing. You will be good to go for a healthy lunch when you can’t brush your teeth afterward. Just be sure to limit the sugar in the dressing and remember to rinse your mouth with water after eating. These are super easy to grab and go -- just toss them into a brown bag or slide them into your backpack.
Fast food options when you can’t brush your teeth:
When you’re in a pinch and you just need something to eat, fast food is all around us. It is best to try to choose wisely and avoid fast food whenever you can, but we all splurge occasionally. Here are a few choices that won’t hurt your teeth too much if you can’t brush afterward. If you really want to protect your teeth and health, skip the desserts and sugary dips, dressings, and beverages, and get your burgers and sandwiches without the bun.
Grilled chicken sandwiches
Veggie Power Bowl
Rice and beans bowl
Black bean quesarito
*Get your taco or burrito ‘al fresco style’ for a lower fat and calorie version which is likely to be healthier for your teeth as well.
Grilled chicken sandwiches
Market fresh sandwiches
Pecan chicken salad sandwiches
Roast beef or chicken sandwiches
*When possible, opt for choices with extra fresh veggies
The Braces Section:
For most braces-wearers, many foods, including crisp veggies and fruits, are okay as long as they’re chopped into small pieces. You may want to check to be sure, especially if you’re fairly new to braces. When deciding what to eat, you should essentially watch out for foods that are:
Note: If making sandwiches or choosing bread for sandwiches at fast-food restaurants, skip the French bread or tougher Italian bread. Even if cut up, they can be hard to chew when you have braces.
With this in mind, here are some of the foods our brace-wearers can enjoy:
Grab and go:
Hummus with pita (as long as you can tear it into small, bite-sized pieces)
Sugarless yogurt packs (or plain, low sugar)
Soft cheeses (brie, cottage cheese packs)
Cut these up:
Cut these up first or include knife/fork/spoon taped to the container for cutting later:
Pizza (no thin-crust or crispy crust, please)
Turkey and cheese sandwiches
Chopped fresh veggies
Chopped fresh fruit
Peanut butter (not the crunchy kind) or almond/cashew butter and jelly sandwiches
Veggie wraps or roll-ups (make sure the veggies aren’t too crunchy; steam first or chop up)
Here are a few tasty options if you are able to heat your food, or don’t mind eating them cold.
Lasagna or lasagna rollups
Mashed potatoes and gravy with cut-up chicken
If you want to eat out, there are many great options from our fast-food list above. Just be sure to avoid crunchy breads, veggies, bacon, nuts and seeds, croutons, or anything else that could damage your braces. You don’t want the fast food to result in an extra visit to get them repaired!
Bonus tip: invest in some innovative containers
It is helpful for many people to have a set of great containers, and we’ve got a few ideas for you to consider (or ask Mom to buy). Explore these fantastic bento boxes, first of all, as they’re all slightly different and excellent for grab-and-go snacks and lunches of all kinds. There are also these adorable stackable snack containers, perfectly-sized stainless steel sandwich containers, bee’s wrap reusable wraps, and leak-proof, reusable storage bags. Keep smaller portions in these 10-ounce Thermos Funtainers, or these wide-mouth 14-ounce containers that keep hot foods hot for 6 hours and cold foods cold for up to 12 hours. For reusable utensils, take a look at these sturdy bamboo travel utensils.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, you can feel free to prep your own snacks and lunches for the week and get as creative as you like as you go along. Be sure to ask for help and/or request favorites, containers, and other necessities from parents or others if you need it -- and remember to keep a little cash on hand for the times you need to grab a snack while you are out. In a bit of time, healthy, tooth-friendly choices will become automatic for you. We look forward to your next visit and can’t wait to hear about how you’ve made healthy choices, even when you’re out and can’t brush your teeth. Happy snacking and see you then!
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.
Call Us - (480) 759-1119
References for Extra Info:
Avanija Reddy, DMD, MPH; Don F. Norris, DMD; Stephanie S. Momeni, MS, MBA; Belinda Waldo, DMD; John D. Ruby, DMD, PhD. “The PH of Beverages in the United States.” Https://Www.ada.org/En/~/Media/ADA/Public, https://www.ada.org/en/~/media/ADA/Public%20Programs/Files/JADA_The%20pH%20of%20beverages%20in%20the%20United%20States.
Gina Roberts-Grey and Emily Elveru October 21, and Gina Roberts-Grey and Emily Elveru. “Foods That Strengthen Kids' Teeth.” Parents, 21 Oct. 2014, www.parents.com/health/dental/smile-savers/.
“Healthy Lunch Ideas When You Can't Brush Your Teeth.” Oral Health and Dental Care, www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/life-stages/teen-oral-care/healthy-lunch-ideas-when-you-cant-brush-your-teeth-0113.
Home. Humana, Dec. 2019, www.humana.com/dental-insurance/7-tips-cleaning-teeth-without-toothbrush.
Jungle Roots. “Hidden Sugar in Kid's Foods.” Jungle Roots, Jungle Roots, 3 Mar. 2020, www.jungleroots.com/post/hidden-sugar-in-kids-foods.
Jungle Roots. “How to Eat With Braces.” Jungle Roots, Jungle Roots, 3 Sept. 2019, www.jungleroots.com/post/how-to-eat-with-braces.
Jungle Roots. “What Kinds of Drinks Have Acids That Harm Teeth?” Jungle Roots, Jungle Roots, 18 Aug. 2020, www.jungleroots.com/post/what-kinds-of-drinks-have-acids-that-harm-teeth.
Winters, Catherine. “Chew on This: 8 Foods for Healthy Teeth.” LiveScience, Purch, 14 Mar. 2014, www.livescience.com/44111-foods-healthy-teeth-bad-breath.html
“The Wonders of Nuts and Seeds - Today's Dietitian Magazine.” Today's Dietitian, www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0316p22.shtml.
Younghans, Samantha Faragalli. “25 Foods That Are Good for Your Teeth.” Eat This Not That, Eat This Not That, 11 Mar. 2020, www.eatthis.com/best-foods-teeth/.