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Ask an Expert: I thought fruit leather was a healthy snack!

Q. I was recently shocked to learn that my 8-year-old daughter has two cavities. One dentist suggested they could be a result of the gummy fruit snacks (fruit leather, roll-ups, etc.) and dried fruit snacks that she eats every day at school. Is that what caused these cavities?

A. You aren’t the first parent to have this rude awakening at the dentist’s office. Your question sounds a lot like the kind of thing I discuss daily with parents in my practice.

Fruit-based snacks can be healthy, like dried fruit or raisins, but they are also very sticky. Even real fruit contains natural sugars that if left to stick on to molars, can lead to cavities. A great way to avoid this issue is to either make sure that your child brushes after eating dried fruits, or stick to fresh fruit.

The other source of cavities in young children is much less well known, and comes from habits that start in infancy. Tooth decay is actually caused by bacteria. Children are not born with these germs in their mouths, they get them from adults. When we share utensils with our young children, clean a spoon with our mouth, or share beverages, we are actually transferring the bacteria from our mouth to theirs. This bacteria, if not removed by twice daily brushing, leads to cavities.

The moral of the story is that a cavity free mouth requires good habits in lots of different ways. It’s important to start early and wipe baby’s gums with a clean cloth morning and night before teeth arrive. For older kids, keep snacks healthy, don’t share utensils or clean pacifiers with your mouth, brush twice daily and get your child to the dentist before their first birthday. This will keep your dentist visits short and painless.

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