How to Approach Oral Health Without Diet Culture

little girl brushing her teeth

Written by: Raschelle Sabourin, Registered Dietitian

Reviewed by: Nüton’s Registered Dietitians


Nutrition is one part of oral health but there are many other factors such as genetics and oral hygiene habits that play a role. Diet culture tends to easily sneak its way into our messages. Here’s how to approach oral health without diet culture.

When teaching kids about oral health, it’s easy for diet culture to sneak its way into our messages. One example is the old saying, “for healthier teeth, avoid sugary foods and beverages” or “stay away from pop because it can ruin your teeth.”

While the foods we eat and drink are to oral health, there are other factors that influence it, such as genetics, oral hygiene habits and more.

Is the answer to cut out sugary foods and beverages? Find out in this post.

Using a Food Neutral Approach Can Help

Shame and blame deter people (including kids) from taking care of their oral health and can lead to poorer health outcomes. It can be helpful to come from a place of compassion and focus more on what we can add to our diets versus take away.

It’s important that we approach oral health with a food neutral lens. Food neutrality focuses on taking the attention away from the benefits or consequences of food items. Moreover, it looks at creating a non-judgmental environment for children to feel safe eating a variety of foods.

Having Variety is Key

Eating a variety of nutritious foods helps ensure that our teeth and gums stay healthy. It is helpful to provide a variety of foods to ensure that children get the nutrients they need to learn, grow, and play.

What Nutrients Support Oral Health?

Many nutrients play a role in dental health, such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D, and protein. If you need to teach kids how food and nutrition are connected to oral health, we recommend keeping it simple. You can say, “our teeth need a variety of foods to stay strong.”

What about Sugar?

Finding the right language to talk about sugar and oral health can be challenging. You may have heard messaging growing up, such as sugary foods and beverages need to be eliminated for optimal oral health.

The problem with focusing on eliminating foods is that it labels certain foods as “good” or “bad” or “healthy” or “unhealthy.” This can create a food hierarchy, and kids may begin to feel guilt or shame about eating these foods.

If we allow kids (and ourselves) permission to have sugary foods and beverages, these foods lose their enticement and appeal. There are strategies we can use improve our oral health when having sugary foods and beverages.

Oral Health Strategies after Eating Sugary Foods and Beverages

First, a bit of a science lesson here! Foods containing sugar (and acidic foods) create an acidic environment in your mouth, which promotes tooth decay or dental caries.

However, there are things we can do to take care of our teeth without eliminating these types of foods.

1.Having sugary foods or beverages with a meal.

Having your beverage or food with a meal increases saliva production, which helps wash away sugars. Next time you have a sugary food or beverage, try thinking about what you can ADD instead of taking away from it. For instance, can you have your Halloween candy with other foods?

2. Brushing teeth thoroughly twice a day and flossing daily.

3. If you have access, visit a dental hygienist or dentist regularly.

What’s the Bottom Line?

There are strategies we can promote to help with oral health that doesn’t include diet culture. Encouraging kids to eliminate foods from their diet is not the best approach. Focusing on having a variety of foods in our diets and encouraging kids to practice good oral hygiene are great strategies to promote oral health.

Nüton’s Resources:

Nüton has created workshops for educators in schools and childcare centres that provide great support for education on oral health. Please refer to the link below for details:


Brown, A. (Host). (2021, January 21). Diet Culture & Dental Health, with Dr. Calvin Kenley [Audio podcast episode]. The Kitchen Table.

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