What if my child won’t drink milk?

milk contains calcium

You probably know that a lack of dietary calcium and vitamin D (which helps the body absorb calcium) can cause teeth to soften over time, making them more susceptible to tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. So, if your child won’t or can’t drink milk, you may be worried that he or she isn’t getting enough calcium to build healthy teeth and gums. In fact, according to the Academy of General Dentistry, only one in five children meets even the minimum standards for calcium consumption.

How much calcium does my child need?

According to the Institute of Medicine, the group that provides nutrition information to the federal government, the guidelines for calcium intake vary by age:

  • Birth through 3 years: 500 milligrams
  • 4 through 8 years: 800 milligrams
  • 9 through 19 years: 1,300 milligrams

For reference, eight ounces of milk contain about 300 mg of calcium and eight ounces of yogurt contain about 400 mg of calcium. Most people rely on milk and milk products to meet their daily calcium requirements. But if your child doesn’t like the taste of milk or is allergic to milk and milk products, there are many ways to boost calcium intake and avoid that struggle about drinking milk.

Making milk taste better

cheese and other dairy products also contain calcium

Sometimes a refusal to drink milk is just a matter of taste. You may have more success with flavored milks, such as chocolate or strawberry milk (which has less sugar than juice or soda), and drinkable yogurt, which is loaded with calcium. Other popular ways to make milk taste better are by making milkshakes, smoothies and hot chocolate (with milk).

Just because a person doesn’t like to drink milk doesn’t mean they won’t like the taste of milk products. Cheese, yogurt, custard and rice pudding all have hefty doses of calcium. In fact, one and a half ounces of a hard cheese, such as cheddar, contains about the same amount of calcium as an eight ounce glass of milk.

Milk goes into a variety of foods that we eat everyday and can often be included in children’s diets without their realizing it is there. For instance, oatmeal or mashed potatoes (made with milk), grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, pizza and lasagna all contain calcium and are usually well-received by children.

Alternatives to milk and milk products

If your child is allergic to milk or is lactose intolerant, you may not be able to use any of the above suggestions to help increase his or her calcium intake. Luckily, there are many products on the market today that have the same amount of calcium that your child would receive from drinking milk. Some examples of good non-milk sources of calcium are:

  • Calcium-fortified orange juice
  • Calcium-fortified soy milk
  • Calcium-fortified breads and cereals (check the label)
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Tofu

Just add up the amounts of calcium your child gets from all sources on an average day to be sure he or she is getting at least the minimum amount for his or her age. (A good resource for determining the amounts of calcium in foods is Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which can be found online at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If you still worry that your child isn’t consuming enough calcium, he or she may need a calcium supplement. You should talk to your physician or pediatrician to decide what level of supplementation is right for your child.

Source: “Why are minerals and nutrients important for oral health?” Academy of General Dentistry Institute of Medicine
Last updated: January 2014

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.

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