Preventing Tooth Decay in Kids
February is Children’s Dental Health Month. This is the perfect time to shine a light on an important topic that can affect your child's wellbeing all the way into adulthood. Many people don’t see dental health as a priority until their children are eating solid foods, or until they have their “adult” teeth. However, tooth decay can become a problem much earlier than you might think. Let’s dispel these myths, and take a look at how you can avoid tooth decay from an early age.
The Truth About Children’s Dental Health
Tooth decay, or cavities, can start as soon as your child’s teeth begin to “erupt” from the gums. In fact, according to the CDC, about 1 in 5 children between the ages of 5 and 11 have at least one untreated decayed tooth. Not only that, children with cavities in their baby teeth are more likely to have cavities in their adult teeth as well.
The likelihood of cavities can also increase if your child eats and drinks sugary foods and beverages, if their family members have cavities, or if they wear braces. In these cases, parents can take a proactive approach in their child’s oral health by speaking with a dentist about how to can encourage positive health habits. After all, proper care and grooming is essential no matter a person's age.
The truth of the matter is, untreated cavities can lead to painful infections. They can also cause developmental problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. Luckily, these problems are also preventable.
When Do Baby Teeth Come In?
Aside from premature babies, whose tooth development may be delayed, your child’s first “baby tooth” will usually appear between 4 and 15 months of age. If there are no teeth showing by 18 months, a dental professional should be consulted.
By three years old, most children have a mouth full of around 20 pearly whites. The first permanent molars will come in at around 6 years of age.
How Parents and Caregivers Can Do to Help
Care for your child’s priceless smile can begin before any teeth even arrive. Parents should wipe their baby’s gums twice a day with a soft cloth. This can be done after the first feeding in the morning and again before bed. This cleanses the area of bacteria and sugars.
Babies: Once teeth come in – even the very first – you should stick to your twice-a-day routine. Except now, start brushing with a soft, small bristled toothbrush. You can put water on the brush, but some dentists and pediatricians recommend a touch of fluoride. Consult with your trusted professionals before using toothpaste.
Children: When a child is around three years old, their parents should help their children to brush their teeth twice a day with a pea-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste. It is a good idea to apply the proper amount of toothpaste to the brush and teach them how to brush effectively and spit out the excess toothpaste. Do not encourage them to rinse with water afterward as many adults do. As they get older, watch them brush, helping them along the way.
Preventing Tooth Decay in Kids:
- No Sweet Bottles: Be mindful of what beverages you put in your baby’s bottle and when you feed it to them. Sucking on bottles with juice, formula or milk in them for too long can cause sugars to gather at the teeth.
- Choose Healthy: Avoid food and beverages with sugars. Candies and sodas, especially when they coat or get stuck in your teeth, can cause cavities.
- Visit the Dentist: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you should bring your baby to visit a pediatric dentist by their first birthday. The dentist can evaluate any potential dental problems.
- Fluoridated Water: Some communities have fluoridated water. This is the tap water your children should drink, since fluoride strengthens enamel. Studies show that these children have fewer cavities. If your drinking water does not contain fluoride, or doesn’t have enough (.7 milligrams per liter), inquire with your pediatrician about supplements.