Even though Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about love, if you have kids, February 14 is most likely dedicated to candy. While it may seem counterintuitive at first, you can actually use this sugar-filled day to teach kids good oral health and help them see the connection between what they eat and what eventually happens to their teeth.
How to Explain Cavities to Kids
“I use the analogy of a bruised apple,” says Dr. Adam Silevitch, DMD, an attending pediatric dentist at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia. He explains to his young patients that “a cavity is like the brown part of an apple, and underneath the brown apple area is healthy white apple. When we ‘do a filling,’ or ‘fix a tooth,’ we are removing the rotten part of the tooth until we see a healthy tooth. We then put a hard material in to make that tooth strong again.”
If your kids are focused on getting their candy fix on Valentine’s Day, try explaining that they need to pay special attention when they brush that morning and evening to keep their teeth from getting “brown like a bruised apple” after all that sugar. This way, they’ll be able to see the connection between brushing and white, healthy teeth.
Teeth-Friendly Valentine’s Day Treats
There’s no doubt that candy will be flowing at your child’s school on Valentine’s Day. If you’re tasked with bringing in a “treat,” or simply want to offer up some healthier alternatives, Dr. Silevitch has a few suggestions.
“Try watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, or even cheese cut into heart shapes,” he says, adding that chocolate-covered strawberries are another great way to sneak fruit into Valentine’s Day celebrations. Sugar-free gum is another good option, because it can actually help increase saliva flow, which helps neutralize acids produced by plaque bacteria.
If you feel the need to go the sweets route, Dr. Silevitch says “cookies, cakes, brownies, or cupcakes are all better than sticky, chewy gummy candies (if you had to choose one over the other). If those baked goods are being eaten, try to avoid putting any sticky things inside (like raisins or toffee).” The stickier the treat, the higher the likelihood that it will stay in a child’s mouth, raising the risk for tooth decay.
Healthy Post-Valentine’s Day Brushing Tips
After your kiddos have enjoyed their Valentine’s Day (whether there was chocolate involved or not), keep the focus on healthy teeth going by making brushing a family affair.
“Children often emulate their parents’ behaviors,” says Dr. Silevitch. “Provide lots of positive reinforcement, and brush your own teeth at the same time as your child.”
Both Dr. Silevitch and the American Dental Association recommend that kids use a fluoride toothpaste when brushing. If your children are over 2 years of age, Aquafresh Bubblemint toothpaste is a great option (An important note to parents: talk to your dentist first about when it’s appropriate for your child to start brushing with a fluoride toothpaste). Not only does it contain flouride that helps to fight sugar acid, it has a great taste that kids will love!