Good oral health is an important part of your child’s overall, long-term physical and mental health. Poor oral care can lead to cavities, tooth decay, and gum disease. Bacteria in the mouth can spread through the bloodstream causing other illnesses like pneumonia, cardiovascular disease, even brain infection! It also can cause embarrassment and discourage your child from smiling or talking to others, which will impact their ability to make friends, be social, and participate at school. Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States, and it is almost 100% preventable. So, what can be done to protect your child’s teeth and keep them smiling for life? It is as easy as 1, 2, 3.
1) Create healthy habits. Begin caring for baby teeth even before you see them by wiping your infant’s gums twice a day with a soft, clean cloth. Once the first tooth appears, start a brushing routine. For those first teeth, twice a day with plain water and a soft brush is recommended. Expand that routine as there are more teeth to at least two times a day for two minutes each with a tiny amount of toothpaste (after breakfast and before bed are good times). Baby teeth may not seem like a big deal because they fall out, but they are important. These primary teeth affect the way your child’s jaw grows and impacts their ability to eat and form words and sounds. Don’t forget to floss. As more teeth come in, and your child eats more solid food, flossing daily will remove the bits of food that get stuck between their teeth. It can be tough to get young children to willingly brush regularly, so build this healthy habit by making it fun! Play their favorite 2-minute song or make up a game and let them see you practice your own good hygiene routine by brushing with them.
2) Avoid sweet and acidic drinks and snacks. The most common contributor to tooth decay is sugar. Candies and sodas are the first things a person might think of. But juices, sports drinks, teas, and lemonade also contain sugars that feed the bacteria that live in the mouth. Acid in food and drink has a detrimental effect on tooth enamel. Reduce or eliminate as much as possible sugary and acidic drinks, but when you have one as a treat, drinking a glass of water afterwards will help rinse away these harmful substances. Dry mouth also contributes to poor oral health, so drinking water helps that issue as well.
3) See a dentist regularly. Start a schedule of twice-annual visits around your child’s first birthday so the dentist can spot problems before they require extensive – and expensive – repair. During a child’s early dental visits, fluoride varnish can be applied to prevent cavities in the primary teeth. Once the child’s back teeth have erupted, a sealant (plastic coating) can be painted on to protect the chewing surfaces. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), dental sealants reduce cavities in permanent molars by 80% for 2 years after placement and continue to protect against 50% of cavities for up to 4 years. Since a cavity is a permanent hole in a tooth, having a sealant applied is a quick, easy, painless, and less expensive option to having to fill cavities later. Continue regular appointments as well as keeping up a good home care routine.
Following these easy steps can improve overall quality of life for your child. NCHD partners with local school districts and contributing agencies to provide free oral health services to school age children who may not have access to other dental care. Registered dental hygienists conduct clinics in participating schools to provide education and screening for students through second grade. For more information about our Oral Health Project, and to find a list of regional dental providers, please visit the website https://www.nchd.org/oralhealth.