Developing softer food has been a human quest since we first started cooking our food. While no one wants to go back to the days when our ancestors spent half their waking hours chewing, we might argue that the modern era of processed foods has given us so many soft foods that we miss out on important benefits of chewing. This is especially true for children who need to chew to develop their teeth and jaws.
At Advanced Dentistry of Butler, we know that prevention is a major part of family dentistry. Prevention is more than regular dental checkups, brushing, and flossing–it starts with a good diet. A diet that includes hard-to-chew foods can do wonders for your child’s development and health.
Practice Makes Perfect
First, we want to stress that you always want to scale the “hard-to-chew” foods to your child’s age and experience. You don’t want to use raw carrots to help wean a one-year-old. This isn’t just too hard for them, it can be a choking hazard, which you should also avoid.
However, perhaps parboiled firm starts to become a better choice than mushy once they start chewing. Giving your child more challenging foods in a variety of textures over time helps them to develop better chewing techniques. Becoming better chewers as children helps kids eat a healthy, varied diet when they’re older.
It’s important to remember that learning to chew isn’t just for babies. Children continue to learn new habits of chewing as long as their teeth are developing, gaining more and better control over the years. They don’t transition to mature chewing behaviors until they reach the age of 10-14.
Speech is a very complicated act, using numerous muscles, nerves, and other structures of the mouth. The more practice your child gets using these structures, the better they will get at controlling them. This makes it easier for them to control their speech sounds. The better they develop their chewing patterns, the more control they have for speaking.
It’s not just control that helps speech, either. Chewing encourages development of the jaws, teeth, and tongue, which gives your child the equipment they need to produce all the important sounds of language.
Much of our facial structure depends on the size and shape of our jaw and jaw muscles. Chewing food, especially hard foods, directly affects the size, shape, and density of the jaw bones.
Every time your child chews, they put pressure on the bones of the jaw and skull. This pressure causes bone cells to release proteins that stimulate the production of more bone. This increases the size and strength of the jaw bones. Strong chewing helps children develop a strong jaw and chin, rather than a smaller, recessed chin. More chewing also leads to better cheekbone definition.
Although chewing alone can’t take the place of orthodontics, more chewing now can make it less likely that a child will need orthodontics like Invisalign, or reduce the severity of correction required.
So far, everything we’ve talked about probably seems straightforward, but the positive effects of chewing hard food go beyond the mouth and teeth. In fact, chewing can stimulate the development of your child’s brain. It improves the flow of blood to the brain. Better task focus and impulse control, as well as stress reduction comes with chewing, too. The result can be beneficial brain development for children. On the other hand, chewing soft foods can affect the brain in different ways, reducing jaw control.
While we’re on the subject, this isn’t just important for children. More chewing might be able to postpone dementia in older adults. Studies show that dental implants might help people retain more brain function as they get older because it’s easier to chew with implants than with dentures.
Chewing hard foods is good for your dental health. Hard foods take more chewing, which stimulates the production of more saliva. Saliva has many benefits for your teeth. It kills harmful oral bacteria, neutralizes harmful acid, and supplies minerals that help teeth stay strong.
Many hard foods are also good meal-finishers that can clean your teeth when you eat them. Of course, sugar-free gum is a good choice after eating, because it cleans your teeth, removing food debris and bacteria. Carrots, celery, and apples can have a similar effect. Ending a meal with these types of foods can be almost as effective as brushing your teeth after eating, and in some ways it’s better for you.
You might not be able to get your child to brush their teeth after lunch, but ending lunch with a tooth-cleaning food might be more reasonable.
More chewing of hard foods can also improve your child’s overall health. First, it can reduce their risk of obesity. Spending more time chewing hard foods gives the brain time to catch up on how full the stomach is. This, combined with the low calorie density of the foods, helps children avoid overeating.
Chewing gives your stomach more time to digest. Plus the more time your child spends chewing, the more the food will be digested before they swallow it, which can reduce the risk of indigestion.
Saliva also contains powerful antioxidants, so the more time chewing, the more they can neutralize oxidants that contribute to cancer risk.
Oral Health Begins at Home
If you want to maintain good oral health for you and your family, it begins at home. Developing healthy diet habits and oral hygiene from a young age can help your children grow up healthy and happy.
If you are looking for a partner to protect and promote the health of your entire family in Butler, PA, family dentist Dr. Bob Fornalczyk practices caring dentistry for patients of all ages. Please call (724) 282-4436 or email us today to schedule an appointment.