Tooth decay (cavities) is one of the most common chronic conditions of childhood in the United States. Untreated tooth decay can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. The sooner children begin getting regular dental checkups, the healthier their mouths will stay throughout their lives.
Early checkups help prevent cavities and tooth decay, which can lead to pain, trouble concentrating, and other medical issues. That’s why every February the American Dental Association (ADA) sponsors National Children’s Dental Health Month to raise awareness about the importance of oral health.
At Community Health Connections, we’re doing our part by bringing you this helpful list of the top 10 things you should know about your child’s teeth:
- Tooth decay is the most common childhood disease. The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend children see a dentist by the time their first tooth emerges, or at least by age 1. Children should visit a dentist every 6 months for a routine cleaning and check-up for prevention and diagnoses of cavities or other dental health problems in their earliest stages.
- Don’t share utensils.Cavity-causing bacteria can be transferred to your child through your saliva so do not share utensils or put their pacifier in your mouth to “clean” it.
- Baby teeth matter.Repairing a cavity in a baby tooth will relieve tooth pain, prevent the spread of infection, keep a healthy pathway for the adult tooth to grow in, and ensure normal speech and proper chewing for the child.
- Avoid topical teething gels.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strongly warns against using teething gels that contain benzocaine or lidocaine and homeopathic teething tablets, which may pose serious risks to your child, including seizures.
- No pacifier after age 2. Prolonged use of a pacifier can affect the way a child’s teeth bite together, sometimes causing an overbite or a crossbite, which require orthodontic treatment to correct.
- 2 minutes 2X a day.Children should brush their teeth for two minutes, two times per day. Use a smear, the size of a grain of rice, of fluoridated toothpaste for children ages 1-3 and a pea-size dab for children ages 3-6. Children’s brushing should be supervised until age 8 to ensure that they are reaching all areas of their teeth and using the appropriate amount of toothpaste. Additionally, you should floss your child’s teeth once they touch each other.
- Fluoride prevents decay. Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making teeth more resistant to acid attacks from bacteria and sugars in the mouth. It also reverses early decay. Children should use a fluoridated toothpaste and should receive a biannual fluoride treatment from their pediatrician or pediatric dentist to further prevent decay.
- Don’t put babies to bed with a bottle of milk or juice.When babies are put to bed with a bottle of milk or juice, the natural and added sugars coat their teeth the entire time they are sleeping, causing tooth decay. Do not bring your baby to bed with you and nurse at will throughout the night. The frequent exposure to milk and the tendency for it to pool in the child’s mouth can cause extensive decay.
- Sip all day, get decay.A good rule of thumb for daily beverage intake is: soda at parties, juices just once, milk with meals and water whenever.
- Snacks attack.When kids snack all day, the result is a constant attack on the teeth, breaking down the enamel and causing cavities. Many parents are surprised to learn that even snacks like crackers, pretzels, and cereal breakdown into sugars which can easily be trapped in the grooves of teeth, causing cavities.
If your child isn’t already seeing a dentist, National Children’s Dental Health Month is the perfect time to schedule an appointment with us. If he or she is already a patient, make sure you schedule regular dental exams to keep their teeth healthy and strong.