It is one of those words that makes you squirm a bit in your seat to read it, let alone say it. Unfortunately, almost half of American children will have one or more cavities in their baby teeth before the age of 12. HALF! There are not a lot of painful, time-consuming, costly and PREVENTABLE medical conditions that affect nearly 1/2 of our children. Yet, cavity prevention is often overlooked.
Cavities in young children have been on the rise in recent years. I am not sure of the reason. I do know that teeth and dental care are often low on the list of priorities for busy parents and for parents who do not have dental insurance or are working with limited financial resources.
You may think “What’s the big deal? They are just baby teeth.” Cavities do start small and can often be fixed with minor procedures. Unfortunately, if they are not diagnosed and treated early they will lead to pain, poor growth, social embarrassment and poor self-esteem. It is not uncommon for deep cavities to create infections that spread into the face and can move up and around the eye. These types of infections can require hospitalizations for intravenous antibiotics and IV fluids as well as pain control.
Here are some tips for keeping your child’s smile healthy and happy:
1) Brush teeth twice a day as soon as the first baby tooth comes up through the gum. Yes, I am talking about your 6 month old. No joke.
2) Find out if your water supply has fluoride in it. Most municipal/community sourced water does, but not all. Discuss this with your dentist or pediatrician. Your child may need extra fluoride.
3) Use toothpaste without fluoride until your child can effectively rinse and spit. Too much fluoride can make teeth overly hard and brittle. More is not always better.
4) Floss between little teeth as soon as they start to touch.
5) Take your child to the dentist by their first birthday and every 6 months thereafter. These are newer recommendations, but they are important.
6) Do allow children to chew sugar free gum that contains xylitol as this helps reduce bacteria in the mouth. Gum may not be a smart or safe choice for infants or younger toddlers.
7) Talk to your dentist about fluoride varnishes to give teeth an extra fighting chance.
The DO NOTS…
1) Do not let your young child brush his teeth without you also going over all of the teeth before or afterwards. They do not have the motor skills to brush well and you can’t actually see the bacteria and small food particles on the teeth, so take a hands-on approach.
2) Do not let a child go to bed with a bottle in their mouth. Children over one-year-old can have cups of water, but lingering sips of milk in the mouth will lead to what used to be called “bottle rot,” a condition in which many, if not all, of the infant/toddler’s teeth are damaged and worn down due to chronic decay.
3) Do not let children drink sugary or acidic drinks (like soda, punch, sports drinks, juice, flavored waters, etc.) except on special occasions. Walking around sipping a soda is probably one of the worst things they can do.
4) Do not give lots of sugar or candies, especially in forms that are sticky or gummy and will tend to hold sugar on or in the deeper portions of the tooth surface. Give that gummy vitamin a few minutes before you brush teeth, instead of after.
5) Do not ignore a child who complains of tooth pain. Early interventions are less aggressive and less costly in the short and long term.
6) Do not be lured into security if your child makes it into adolescence without cavities. They can occur anytime. I didn’t have any until I started eating fruit roll-ups every day at lunch in middle school. Oops. That was an uncomfortable lesson to learn.
Following these simple Dos and Don’ts will help prevent cavities and tooth decay in your little ones, which is something we all can smile about!