February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, so a great time to talk oral health. Cavities are the #1 chronic health condition in children. Don’t underestimate the benefits of proper oral hygiene.
Why is a pediatrician writing about a dental issue?
As stated above, they are the #1 chronic health condition in kids.
- Over 40% of children have cavities by the time they reach kindergarten.
- Children with poor oral health are 3 times more likely to miss school due to dental pain.
- In 2012, Emergency Department dental visits cost the U.S. health care system $1.6 billion, with an average cost of $749 per visit.
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month
This year’s slogan is…
Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste and clean between your teeth for a healthy smile!
The good news is that we can help prevent cavities with a few good oral health practices.
Don’t share germs
Cavities are caused by bacteria in our mouth, so don’t share saliva with your kids.
Evidence has proven that the transmission of saliva from a parent to child can be harmful to their teeth! Parents with active tooth decay can pass the Streptococcus mutans bacteria through their saliva and give their children cavities!
Don’t “clean” your baby’s pacifier by putting it in your mouth.
Never offer your kids food that you’ve had in your mouth.
Don’t share silverware or drinks.
And finally, keep your own mouth healthy. Visit your dentist regularly. Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride paste. Floss daily. Use a fluoride mouthwash for an added bonus. Not only does this model good dental hygiene to your kids, but if you don’t have tons of bacteria causing cavities you’re less likely to share them.
Sugar feeds the bacteria that cause cavities. That’s why it’s so important to brush teeth before sleeping. Overnight the bacteria can grow more readily because the saliva production slows. (Saliva naturally helps keep our teeth clean.)
Most foods and drinks have sugar, even healthy foods. That’s okay. What’s important is that we get the food residues out of our mouths several times a day by brushing and flossing.
Foods that cling to your teeth for a long time such as milk, ice cream, honey, sugar, soda, dried fruit, sticky candy, cake, cookies, hard candy and mints, dry cereal, and chips are more likely to cause cavities than foods that are easily washed away by saliva.
Of course sticky candies are a known culprit, but juice is a big actor in cavity creation. Kids don’t need juice. Fruit is great, but juice is basically all the sugar from the fruit concentrated into a glass.
Sports drinks are another source of excessive sugar despite the healthy-sounding name. Kids don’t need the sugars in these drinks in most cases. Water is just fine for rehydration for typical young athletes.
Never put anything other than breast milk or formula in a bottle. Kids who drink juice in their bottle are at a much higher risk of getting cavities. There’s even a name. You guessed it: Baby Bottle Tooth Decay.
Kids who eat or drink anything before bed without brushing afterwards are at much higher risk – so don’t let your infants and toddlers fall asleep while drinking their bottle! Enforce brushing before bed!
watch acidic foods and drinks
Acidic foods are also very bad for teeth. Frequent exposures to acidic foods can erode enamel, making teeth more susceptible to decay over time.
Most carbonated soft drinks, including diet soda, are acidic. Regular sodas have the double whammy of sugar and acid. Keep kids from developing the habit of drinking sodas. They should be for a special treat no more than weekly and should be followed by at least rinsing the mouth with water.
A squeeze of lemon or lime can turn a simple glass of water into a fun beverage, but the acid can damage teeth if not limited. Citric fruits and juices can also irritate mouth sores.
Water, especially fluoridated water, is the best drink.
As mentioned above, saliva helps to clean our teeth during the day. When kids graze on food all day or have a cup of juice, soda, or milk to sip all day, the teeth are constantly exposed to sugars.
Have set meal and snack times throughout the day. Between those times we should only have water. This is not only good for teeth, but also for weight management and the practice of patience and self control.
Most parents know that this is easier said than done. Kids hate brushing their teeth! But it’s such an important thing that it must be done despite crying and fighting.
Even before baby teeth appear you can start good oral hygiene. Gently wipe the gums and inside of the mouth every day, especially after feedings and before bed. You can use a clean wet cloth or a finger toothbrush.
When kids get their first tooth it’s time to start brushing! Brush baby teeth twice a day with a soft, age-appropriate sized toothbrush. Use a grain of rice sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste. This has been recommended since 2014, but many parents are surprised they are “allowed” to use fluoride in babies. Just because they sell infant toothpaste without fluoride doesn’t mean that’s the recommended product. Use a kid-friendly flavor though. Mint toothpastes tend to make young mouths feel like they’re burning!
When kids are adept at spitting out the toothpaste, they can use a pea-sized amount. Even adults don’t need more than that.
There are many things you can try to help your kids brush:
- Entice with a song. Mouth Healthy from the American Dental Association has a great playlist.
- Let them choose if you brush first or if they brush first. Either way you need to use the toothbrush on their teeth. They don’t actually brush well until at least 6 years of age, often later.
- Try different toothbrushes. Some kids like electric brushes, others don’t. Most prefer soft bristles.
Kids need to start flossing once their molars start touching each other.
Dental floss is used to remove food particles and plaque. It’s very important to floss between teeth daily, preferably before bed.
There are many types of floss. Talk to your dentist about which is right for your family members.
Many kids can’t floss on their own, and even getting a parent’s fingers in to floss their mouth can be difficult. Pediatric Dentist Dr. Emily Day turned me on to Gum Chucks. They’re a great way to floss small mouths. I’ve even used them myself when I cut my finger and couldn’t wrap floss around my finger. (These are not paid endorsements – I just like the product and the dentist!)
To floss properly, wrap the ends of the floss tightly around your fingers. Guide the floss between all teeth to the gum line, pulling out any food particles or plaque. Unwrap clean floss from around your fingers as you go so that you have used the floss from beginning to end when you finish. Don’t forget to floss behind the back teeth.
When you first begin flossing, your gums may bleed a little. This is due to inflammation in the gums that comes from poor oral hygiene. The fix is to improve oral hygiene!
Fluoride helps to strengthen enamel. It is important to brush teeth with a fluoridated toothpaste, as mentioned above, and to drink water with fluoride.
Fluoride in drinking water has been shown to prevent tooth decay by at least 25% in both children and adults.
Most bottled waters and filtered waters do not provide the recommended fluoride. Some cities do not offer fluoride in their water. Talk to your doctor or dentist to find out if your child gets enough fluoride through water.
Topical fluoride should be applied every 3-6 months to your child’s teeth by your child’s pediatrician or dentist. Varnish sticks to tooth surfaces, which minimizes the risk of swallowing it. Fluoride varnish is recommended for all age groups once they have teeth.
Believe it or not, chewing sugar free gum after meals has been shown to help prevent cavities.
Young kids should not chew gum due to choking risks, but if older kids won’t go to the school bathroom after lunch, chewing sugar free gum (if allowed by school rules) might help.
Your child’s dentist will likely offer sealants when your kids start getting their permanent molars. This can help seal the crevices in the molars to prevent food trapping. Sealants have been shown to reduce the risk of cavity formation by nearly 80% in molars.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has a Mouth Monsters site that is full of ideas to help kids get good oral hygiene.
I love this oral health screening guide. It has photos of different tooth problems, a chart of when to expect teeth to erupt, and fluoride facts.