Family dinners are the perfect time to not only share delicious, healthy meals but to also reinforce good oral health habits. If you’re at a loss for what mouth-healthy foods to include in your nightly meals or how to teach your kids about the importance of oral hygiene, consider these tooth-minded tips for family dinners and oral health conversations.

1. Serve Meals, Not Snacks

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), tooth decay is the top chronic childhood disease. Eating meals rather than snacking throughout the day helps to produce more saliva, which is important for your oral health. Saliva not only washes away food debris, but it also produces calcium and phosphate that strengthen your enamel and fight decay-causing bacteria, explains the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR).

2. Choose Mouth-Healthy Foods

These are some of the best foods that help keep your mouth in great shape:

  • Crunchy veggies and fruits that have a lot of water, such as celery, apples and carrots, help to combat tooth decay. Carrots in particular are great for removing food particles around the teeth.
  • Brazil nuts, cashews and almonds all help fight the bacteria that lead to tooth decay.
  • Milk, yogurt or cheese all help to strengthen enamel thanks to their high calcium content. So, in moderation, macaroni and cheese may not be such a bad dinner idea after all!
  • Whole grains, such as whole grain pasta or bread, give bacteria less to feed on.
  • Berries, such as strawberries, are high in vitamin C, which is good for strengthening body tissue, such as the tooth dentin beneath your enamel.

3. Avoid Sugary Drinks

The ADA recommends opting for water instead of sugary beverages, such as sports drinks or sugary juices. The fluoride in tap water guards against cavities, and it’s one of the most effective ways to stimulate saliva production. If your kids find water ho-hum boring, get them involved in helping create tasty water infusions with cucumber, mint or watermelon.

When it comes to family dinners and oral health, be patient and consistent in modeling good food choices and dental health practices. Over time, your kids will learn and feel confident about making good food choices and sticking to a daily oral care routine to maintain a healthy mouth and