Tooth decay affects over 25 percent of children between one and six years old, and is the most common chronic childhood disease, according to the article “ADA Foundation Funds Initiatives to Help Prevent Early Childhood Tooth” on the American Dental Association (ADA) website. Dental care should start as early as before the first baby tooth appears, and parents should take children for yearly dental checkups to avoid dental problems.
Tooth Decay and Cavities
Teeth are prevented by coating called tooth enamel. According to the ADA, tooth decay occurs when germs in the mouth mix with sugar, creating an acid that wears away the enamel. The holes in the enamel are called cavities.
Early Dental Eruption
Although they are hidden in the gums, baby teeth develop during the mother’s second trimester of pregnancy. Bacteria can develop on the gums even before baby teeth descend. To prevent this, parents should wipe the gums with a soft, damp cloth after feedings. Once the teeth begin to come in, parents can use a soft toothbrush and fluoride-free toothpaste to care for baby teeth.
In addition, in the article “Good Reasons to Smile” published on the Healthy Children website, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parents take children for an oral risk assessment before their first birthday.
The Best 4 Ways To Prevent Dental Problems
One of the biggest causes of early tooth decay is called bottle mouth. Bottle mouth occurs when a child is put to sleep with a bottle or sippy cup; the tooth’s prolonged exposure to the milk or juice causes the tooth enamel to wear away. Parents should try to give the child a bottle or sippy cup filled with water, if necessary. The AAP recommends juice is limited to one cup per day and preferably at mealtimes.
Parents should also limit a child’s pacifier use after the first birthday, and if possible, thumb-sucking should be strongly discouraged. Frequent sucking can affect a child’s bite, causing teeth to line up incorrectly and possible jaw problems to develop.
Brushing is the best way to prevent cavities and tooth decay. After a child’s second birthday, children should be brushing teeth twice daily with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste on a soft-bristled toothbrush. A good way to encourage children to brush their teeth is by brushing teeth together, thus making it a fun, family activity. Mom or Dad may wish to try helping the child brush his or her teeth and, in turn, letting the child help brush the parent’s teeth.
Children should also be encouraged to brush after taking liquid medication. Liquid medications can cause tooth decay if taken often. Flossing should be encouraged once a child has two teeth that touch each other.
It is very important that children be taken for a dental checkup at least once a year. Children can be taken to a regular dentist, or parents may wish to take them to a pediatric dentist. A pediatric dentist treats children from birth to their teenage years. This type of dentist is better suited to treat children and make them comfortable. So if a child is especially fussy or fearful of the dentist, visiting a pediatric dentist may be a good idea.
Eating Habits and Cavity Prevention
It is very well known that frequent sugar intake causes tooth decay. Parents should severely limit their children’s snacking on sweets like candy or cookies, as well as prohibit soda-drinking. Crackers and chips tend to have sugar as well. Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins and are always the best choice for snacking. In addition, children should eat foods rich in calcium, such as cheese, yogurt and milk.
The AAP recommends that children not be rewarded with candy and sweets, but hugs, stickers, or toys instead.
Parents should also beware that the germs in their own mouths can be spread to their children’s mouths when sharing food or utensils. Children should not share food or utensils with anyone.
Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease, but parents can help to combat it with early preventive care and by encouraging children to develop good dental habits as early as possible.