Updated: Feb 2, 2021
February is National Children's Dental Health Month and a perfect time to remind parents how important it is to take care of those baby teeth. Currently, in the US, tooth decay is the most common chronic condition affecting children and is 100% preventable.
Children with oral health problems often miss more school and receive lower grades, not to mention the pain and infections that can lead to many other problems later in life. The foundation for good oral health is laid during the first years of life, and as parents, you are the greatest influencers. Teach them good dental care starting early for a lifetime of good oral health.
Baby teeth matter. As soon as teeth appear, decay can occur and when a baby tooth is lost too early, the permanent teeth can drift into these empty spaces and make it difficult for other adult teeth to find room to come in. This can make teeth crooked or crowded. That’s why starting children off with good oral care can help protect their teeth for decades to come.
Prevention isn’t difficult but should be consistent and start early. In fact, right after birth, you can gently wipe a baby’s mouth and gums to clean their mouths and help them become accustomed to brushing when older. Did you know, babies “catch” cavities? Research shows that cavity-causing bacteria can be transmitted from mom to baby and in 71% of cavity cases, mothers are the source. Sharing bottles and feeding spoons or mouth cleaning a pacifier can pass the bacteria to the baby.
For children younger than 3 years, start brushing teeth as soon as they begin breaking gums, using fluoride toothpaste in the amount of a grain of rice. Brushing teeth twice a day will greatly decrease the chance of cavities. Always help your toddler to brush, ensuring they use the appropriate amount of toothpaste and that each tooth is brushed.
Since tooth decay is caused by bacteria growth, the primary culprit is the consumption of sugary foods and drinks. Keeping children from eating these types of foods and liquids is almost impossible, however, only allowing them in moderation will protect their teeth and pave the way to a healthier lifestyle. Oral health is also affected by the amount of time the teeth are exposed to bacteria. Sweet foods, carbohydrates and sugary fluids left in the mouth during long periods of time, such as overnight, can increase the chance of cavities and remains the main culprit leading to tooth decay. It’s advised to not let children fall asleep with a bottle, and avoid filling them with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks.
For children 3 to 6 years of age, brushing teeth twice daily using a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste and flossing once a day goes a long way in preventing tooth decay. Always supervise children’s brushing to ensure they are not swallowing the toothpaste and that all teeth are carefully brushed to remove food and bacteria.
Encouraging children to snack on healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, is always a good idea, both for good oral health and encouraging healthy behaviors, but I bet you didn’t know that the frequency of snacking also affects oral health. Giving time between meals and snacks allows saliva time to wash away food particles and bacteria that would otherwise accumulate. If your child is continually snacking, bacteria is constantly maintaining fuel.
Finally, it is recommended to have a child’s first dental visit by age 1. Dentists can apply fluoride varnishes and sealants to prevent disease and strengthen tooth enamel. Varnish applied bi-annually, has even been shown to reverse early decay. Most cavities are on the chewing surfaces of molars and sealants can protect these back teeth for up to ten years.