Summer can do a number on kids' teeth - what with regular trips for ice cream, ice pops at summer camp and all of that candy from the pool snack bar.
And while Dr. Meenal Patel, a dentist who owns Preston Dental Loft in Cary, enjoys a treat or two herself on these hot summer days, she says that there are healthier ways to cool down - and still enjoy a little something special.
"It's hot out and moms are like, 'I have to give my kid something to cool down,'" Dr. Patel said. But we shouldn't always fall back on that Popsicle.
These treats are full of sugar, of course. But it isn't just sugar that can speed up cavities and other dental issues.
Acid, which often is found in high-sugar drinks and snacks, can break down the enamel on teeth. It also can lower the pH level in our mouths, which encourages bad bacteria and speeds up tooth decay too.
So Dr. Patel shared some yummy alternatives to the usual summer treats.
Instead of sticking to the sugar-laden store-bought kind, make your own with yogurt. Dairy, Dr. Patel said, can increase pH levels and prevent cavities. All you need is a blender, some yogurt, fruit and ice pop molds to stick in the freezer.
"I tell my moms, in a blender, you can put some yogurt, some fruit and blend it all up and make Popsicles," she said. If your kids like sweeter things, throw in a little honey.
Try it: Make strawberry banana smoothie pops, substituting honey for the maple syrup
Unless we're training for marathons or spending hours in sports practices, it's best if we all steer clear of sports drinks, which are blamed for all kinds of things, including obesity and tooth decay.
"Sports drinks have some of the lowest pH that's found and that is what attacks the enamel and starts cavity formation," Dr. Patel said.
Water is always the best option, she said. But if your kids won't drink it, consider infusing it with some fruit.
"You can put strawberries and oranges in the water and just infuse it," she said. "Even cucumber. Cucumber mint is really nice."
She does suggest parents avoid lots of lemon and lime, which have a lot of acid. Dr. Patel said she had a patient who had started a new diet that involved drinking a lot of lemon water every day.
"I saw a lot of erosion on the backs of her teeth," she said. "She'd been washing her teeth in lemon water every day."
I love a good ice cream cone, which is why I'm always writing about yummy ice cream places around here. But Dr. Patel warns that it shouldn't be an everyday treat - especially when you're out and about.
"The sugar actually tends to grab on to the teeth and it breaks down the enamel," she said. "What happens, when you're eating ice cream and you're out and about, you're not going to go brush your teeth."
Dr. Patel recommends eating cold fresh fruit from the fridge - or even frozen fresh fruit.
Try it: Make these frozen blueberry bites and frozen yogurt banana pops (without the added sugary toppings)
Like sports drinks, soda can lead to all kinds of problems, including obesity and tooth decay. Just steer clear. Seltzer water is a better option if you're craving a little carbonation, Dr. Patel said.
But water always is the best choice.
"There is nothing that's going to be as great as drinking water," she said. "There's no replacement."
Candy and other sticky foods
As we all know, hard and sticky candies are rough on our teeth. But other sticky foods, including some granola bars, protein bars, dried fruits and, of course, fruit snacks, can lead to cavities too.
Foods "that can be sticky are really hard to remove with regular brushing," Dr. Patel said. "It allows a lot of bacteria to eat away and destruct the enamel in that particular spot where the candy is stuck."
If you're going to eat some candy or a sticky protein bar, don't nibble on it for an afternoon. Instead, just eat it and then drink some water to help rinse your teeth off.
Fruit is always the better option here, too. But Dr. Patel said that sugar-free gum with Xylitol, a sweetener, can be a good choice. Chewing sugarless gum can increase saliva and wash away acids in the mouth, according to the American Dental Association. Look for gum that has the ADA seal of approval.