According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, cavities are one of the most common childhood ailments. Studies show that one in five children across the United States has had at least one cavity in their baby teeth by the time they reach five years of age. Children from low-income households are over twice as likely to have untreated cavities as children from higher-income families. Many times low-income children have other dental issues as well.
Cavities can cause pain and can lead to problems eating, talking and even learning. Children who suffer from more cavities, or dental caries, miss many more school days and earn lower grades compared to those children who don’t get as many cavities. If left untreated, dental caries can cause extreme pain and lead to serious and even life-threatening infections. However, as prevalent as cavities are, dental caries are a completely preventable disease with proper dental care and nutrition. Here are some tried and true child dental care tips for parents that can help reduce or even eliminate dental caries altogether:
Encourage a Healthy Diet
Paleontology records show that man did not start developing cavities until they began adding high carbohydrate foods to their diet. Carbohydrates are sugars and come and are broken down into simple and complex types. Foods like refined sugar fall into the simple carbohydrate category whereas foods like whole grains are classified as complex carbs. Of the two the former is the culprit behind most cavities.
Simple carbohydrates break down easily and stick to the surfaces of teeth and gums and promote the colonization of bacteria. While the bacteria that resides in the mouth is considered “good” bacteria from a health standpoint, it does work to break down the surface enamel that protects the tooth. Once the enamel is compromised, tooth decay can easily result. One of the most effective ways of keeping bacteria from running wild is to not let it get a foothold in the first place and this is best accomplished by limiting the amount of foods containing high amounts of simple carbohydrates.
Teaching Child Dental Care
Aside from limiting the amount of sugary foods your child consumes, you must teach your child how to care for their teeth from an early age. While the advice for years has been to brush immediately after eating, new studies have shown evidence that this can actually harm teeth. The Mayo Clinic states that brushing immediately after eating foods that contain high amounts of citric acid, such as oranges, can damage the teeth as acidic foods weaken the enamel and brushing too soon afterwards can strip away the weakened enamel. The American Dental Association instead suggests waiting at least 60 minutes after eating to allow your saliva to naturally cleanse your teeth and allow the pH levels in the mouth to return to normal. Instead, floss your teeth to remove trapped food particles and rinse your mouth with water or chew sugarless gum.
The American Dental Association also suggests that flossing is more important to child dental care than brushing. This is due to the fact that many sugary foods are easily washed away with water and your saliva, but food particles that get trapped between the teeth are what causes the most damage. Some studies, namely one at Cornell and another at John Hopkins, have suggested that flossing and rinsing after each meal is enough, provided that teeth are brushed at least once a day just before bed. This is because your saliva, the body’s natural defense against tooth decay, dries up during sleep when all metabolic functions slow down.
Children do need to be taught the proper methods for flossing and brushing. Show your children how to move the brush back and forth across their teeth while holding the brush at a 45-degree angle. Introduce flossing gradually to prevent bleeding gums and come up with some fun activities to teach your kids about proper child dental care. Children are very impressionable when young and they love to mimic their parent’s behavior so one of the best ways to encourage your children to become interested in brushing is to practice what you preach.
Use Proper Dental Instruments
Most first-time parents don’t have any prior experience with child dental care and what toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss works the best for young children. If you fall into this group, don’t hesitate to ask your dentist during your next visit.
Clean Babies Gums
Simply because they don’t have teeth yet, most parents typically don’t even consider the health of their baby’s gums. Babies have 20 temporary teeth under their gums when they are born, but these “baby” teeth don’t begin to come in until around four month of age, but can be anywhere from four to seven months. However, it is important for parents to understand the same bacteria that causes dental caries can result in gum disease if the gums are not properly cared for. This is especially important for newborns as their immune system doesn’t become fully developed until three to four months of age. Take these steps to clean your baby’s gums after feeding:
- Wash your hands thoroughly and wipe down your baby’s gums at least twice a day with a clean piece of sterile gauze to remove any food and liquid.
- Clean and sterilize all feeding items such as bottles, nipples, rings and caps as well as pacifiers.
- Don’t share saliva. While sharing a spoon with your baby may seem harmless, this can result in you passing germs and other microorganisms that can place your baby at risk.
Once baby teeth come in, a special baby toothbrush and flosser should be used to remove debris stuck between their teeth.
Early Dental Visits
You should take your child to the dentist soon after the first tooth erupts to have a thorough examination performed. This will allow you to get ahead of any potential problem before it becomes a more serious issue. A child’s first trip to the dentist can set the tone all the way into adulthood so it is important to find a dentist who has experience treating young children. Most often your family dentist will be able to handle typical child dental care issues and will refer you to a pediatric dentist if necessary.
Seek Orthodontic Treatment
Crowded or misaligned teeth can cause major dental issues by not allowing proper flossing and brushing between the teeth in tight spots. This leads to trapped food and causes cavities that can often go undetected without a thorough dental exam. Orthodontic treatment such as braces are designed to correct misaligned teeth.
Mistreatment of child dental care issues is one of the main causes of severe dental issues, therefore it is critical to pay attention and address dental issues as soon as possible. Watch for these warning signs:
- Bad breath
- Bleeding gums
- Intense toothaches
- Swelling gums
- White spots on tooth surfaces
- Loose or missing teeth
- Grinding teeth
PEARLS of Wisdom
The CDC and the American Dental Association says that parents should remember the P-E-A-R-L-S of Wisdom to be sure they cover the important steps for child dental care:
- P – Protect your child’s teeth early by caring for your own mouth when you’re pregnant.
- E – Ensure you clean your baby’s gums after every feeding.
- A – Avoid putting your baby to bed with a bottle.
- R – Remember to brush your child’s teeth every day. Use a fluoride toothpaste for children over two years of age and consult with your dentist on when to begin using fluoride toothpaste for children under two.
- L – Limit sugary food and drinks and give your children more fruits and vegetables.
- S – Schedule a dental visit as soon as their first tooth appears or by your child’s first birthday.
Parents must take responsibility for their children’s teeth from infancy to adulthood. The development of bones and soft tissues are vital for proper overall childhood development and people who have dental and other health problems in adulthood can often trace the problems back to childhood dental issues. While children can brush and floss their own teeth, proper child dental care requires your supervision. To prevent serious dental health issues in their early years as well as later in life, children must receive sound child dental care instructions early on.