The complete health of a child includes healthy teeth and gums. As a parent, it is imperative that you understand the important role you play in getting your child started on the road to good oral health. Parental knowledge of how to prevent Early Childhood Decay, nutrition, brushing, dental safety and regular visits to the dentist all play important roles in the developing dentition of a child.
Early Childhood Decay, sometimes called “Baby Bottle Syndrome” is completely preventable. It is caused by a parents lack of knowledge and not due to child’s susceptibility to decay. All edible liquids, other than water, contain sugars that can cause tooth decay. For example, any milk (both cow’s and mother’s), juice and formula have the potential to cause tooth decay. So sending a child to bed with a bottle or sippy cup with anything but water can lead to severe dental and health issues. Simply put, NEVER SEND YOUR CHILD TO BED WITH A BOTTLE.
It is recognized that babies have a natural tendency to suck. A soother is preferred to a thumb as a soother can be taken away eventually when the child reaches the appropriate age. I hope for obvious reasons, NEVER PLACE HONEY, SUGAR OR CORN SYRUP ON A SOOTHER. At age three or four (at the latest), the need for the sucking action is diminished and the use of a soother should be terminated. Extended use of a soother can lead to unfavorable jaw growth and crowding. My advice is to have the soother go missing. The first night might not go without incident but the next nights should be much easier.
Good nutrition goes a long way in preventing tooth decay. The sugars in drinks and foods we give our children can contribute to poor dental health. Consider soda pop and some sports drinks: These liquids contain high levels of sugar and acid with little or no nutritional value. Even fruit drinks such as orange and apple juice have high concentrated amounts of sugar. In addition, sticky foods such as fruit rolls are “wolves in a sheep’s clothing”, as far as tooth decay is considered. They are sticky and full of sugar, a deadly combination as far as tooth decay is considered. Starchy foods such as teething cookies also are sticky. It is when these sticky carbohydrates mix with acid producing bacteria that decay begins. They attack the enamel and cause the holes we call cavities.
So now that I’ve scared you I have some good news. Cavities can be prevented by following some easy steps and prevention techniques. First, Read the labels of what is in the prepared foods you feed your kids. Keep the sticky sugary foods to a minimum and if you have to include them, do so at mealtime. Constant snacking keeps acid levels in your child’s mouth at persistent high levels without allowing a breather from high acid levels to allow their teeth to remineralize. Help your child brush and floss their teeth. Let them brush first and then you take over to finish the job. The older they get, their ability should improve and so should their responsibility for their own dental care. Flossing should become routine as well with the parent taking the lead roll as the child’s dexterity improves. The two most important times to brush a child’s teeth is just before bed and right after breakfast in the morning. Once a child has brushed before bedtime only water should be considered if the child requests something or else the teeth must be brushed again. Additional brushing should be considered for kids at higher risk. Previous cavities and constant snacking place children in a high risk category.
So when should a child see a dentist? The first visit should happen at the first sign of a baby tooth erupting (around 6 months) and no later than one year of age. This visit should help get the child and the parent off on the right foot when it comes to taking care of the child’s teeth. Then at age 3 the child should begin regular checkups at about a 6 month interval.
Finally, dental safety starts at a young age. From the day the child comes home from the hospital till the day the child can sit safely in the front seat of a car, an age and weight appropriate car seat should be used. If the child is involved in contact sports a helmet and mouthguard should be worn. In combination, both can help prevent serious trauma to the head and teeth in the event of hard contact with other players, the playing field or ice and surrounding structures. Toddlers tend to fall a lot so dental trauma is common during this stage but dental trauma can happen at any age. Your dentist is ready to assist so see your dental practitioner as soon as possible following the trauma.
So simply put, your child’s dental health requires a team effort. Cooperation by the child, parent and dental practitioners (dentists and dental hygienists) can go a long way to ensuring oral health.
Mark Librach DDS
For further information, please consult the website of the Canadian Dental Association