Keeping Your Child's Teeth Healthy in Children's Dental Health Month and Beyond
posted: Feb. 01, 2020.
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. We do have some supplies available for doing group screenings for children. Contact the office to make arrangements.
Parents play a significant role in their children’s dental health and dental health behaviors with moms slightly edging out dads in this department.
While pacifiers may be a parents’ lifeline, using them after one (1) year of age is associated with “buck teeth” (we call it excessive overjet) and loss of lower arch development space. Some parents think fingers or thumbs are better than the pacifiers since their child can’t lose or drop them like they can with a pacifier, but finger sucking after one (1) year of age leads to what we call an open bite (certain teeth—usually the ones in front—do not meet when the child bites teeth together).
Thumb and finger sucking habits should be broken by age 4 or there is a greater risk of throwing your child’s teeth out of alignment and needing braces (orthodontics or ortho).
If you are putting your child to sleep with a bottle, make sure the bottle is filled with water—not formula, juice, or milk. The sugar in beverages settles on the teeth and can cause widespread decay which we call baby bottle tooth decay.
Sippy Cups (spill proof beverage containers), baby bottles, juice boxes, and cups with straw mechanisms are often used both day and night by kids. Many children get some sort of sugared beverage during the day (this includes natural sugared drinks such as 100% juice and beverages with added sugar such as juice drinks, soda, sports drinks etc.) Children who use sippy cups, straws, or bottles during the day with a sugared drink are more likely to snack and to eat a greater number of cavity-causing snacks. Continual use of these drinking aids throughout the day may put a child at risk for a higher number of dental cavities.
Parents can transfer oral bacteria to their child by tasting their food and using the same utensil to feed their child or by blowing on the food to cool it. Even if child puts his or her fingers in your mouth and then into his or her own, it can transfer bacteria from your mouth to his or hers. Children whose moms who have lots of cavities are more likely to have cavities themselves. Decay on baby teeth greatly increases the chance for decay on permanent teeth.
Cavities (dental decay) are the most common childhood disease. It is 5x more common than asthma. One study suggests that acute dental disease has a similar morbidity (death rate) to asthma in children. Yet many parents worried more about overall health than dental health!
Parents who noted their child had poor oral health were more likely to report that their child had poor school performance. One study showed that children with both poor oral health and poor general health were 2.3X as likely to have bad school performance.
There seems to be a link between severe early childhood cavities and children who have low hemoglobin and ferritin levels. So if your child has either of these, talk to both physician and dentist for recommendations.
As noted above, kids are eating more complex carbohydrates in their modern diet. (Items such as pretzels, crackers, etc.). Kids also eat more sweets than in the past and drink more sodas and juices. Our saliva (spit) breaks the complex carbohydrates down into sugars. Bacteria in our mouths feed on the sugars and produce an acid that eats away at tooth enamel. Sticky foods and gummy candies, especially sour gummy candies, are also culprits in cavities. Their stickiness allows them to attach to the tooth and makes it harder for our spit to rinse them away.
To decrease the risk of dental cavities, limit how often you serve high carb snacks and juices. In fact, the recommendation is a maximum of 6 oz. of juice per day! Ditch sippy cups by age 1 year.
Talk to kids about what kinds of foods cause cavities. They can begin understanding this about age 6 yrs. Candy is not the only thing that causes cavities. Sticky foods (raisins etc) can get stuck in crevices of the teeth. Complex carbohydrates (chips, crackers, cereals) have sugars that can get stuck between the teeth and aren’t dissolved by saliva. (Most sugars end in –ose. Teach kids to look on the labels.) One study found that sucrose (a sugar) increased the amount of cavities in children that had high levels of S. mutans bacteria in their mouths.
Schedule a first dental checkup at 1 -2 years of age. Expect a meltdown from young children. Some children may benefit from a graduated approach (1st visit look around or look see, 2nd visit do exam, 3rd visit for procedure.)
Consider sealants on permanent teeth. Sealants are a plastic coating applied to the tooth’s chewing surface. The plastic coating starts out as a flowable liquid that is hardened by the dental light to create the sealant. Sealants prevent bacteria from getting into grooves of the tooth and make the tooth surface smoother so that it is easier to clean. No “Novocaine” is needed for sealants.
Fill cavities in baby teeth to prevent pain and infection and keep the teeth healthy. Remember, they need to hold space for the permanent teeth and help guide permanent teeth into the correct position. Baby teeth also help the jaw grow and develop properly. Poorly cared for baby teeth can affect your child’s nutrition (via eating or chewing habits), speech, and smile.
For older children, chewing sugar-free gum may help prevent cavities when they can’t brush after a meal.
Get a professionally fitted mouthguard for any contact sport. This isn’t just football! Soccer, basketball, wrestling, and even some cheerleading teams can have the potential to be a contact sport. The mouthguard will help to protect the teeth from injury as well as dispersing forces from contact across a wide plane rather than concentrating it in one small area.
Hopefully these tips will help you to keep your child’s or children’s teeth healthy so that they last a lifetime!
*Note: Information in this article is not meant to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare professionals.
Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist who sees both adults and children
1320 Cooper Foster Park Rd.
Lorain, OH 44053