Protecting your child’s teeth from cavities can be as easy as following a few simple recommendations. If we’re successful at instilling good behavior early in life, those habits will provide them with a healthy mouth that will keep them smiling indefinitely.
Dental caries (cavities) is a chronic, infectious, transmissible disease resulting from tooth-adherent specific bacteria, primarily Mutans Streptococci (MS), that metabolizes sugars to produce acid which demineralizes tooth structure over time. The disease of Early Childhood Caries (ECC) is the presence of one or more decayed, missing, or filled tooth surface in any primary (baby) tooth in a child under the age of 6. According to the CDC, this is the most common chronic childhood disease. It’s 5 times more common than asthma and 7 times more common than hay fever.
Parents often question why it’s important to invest in baby teeth that need restorations, such as fillings and crowns, if they are just going to fall out in the future. Believe it or not, patients with ECC are at higher risk for developing new cavities in both primary and permanent teeth, hospitalizations and ER visits, increased treatment costs over time, risk for delayed physical growth and development, loss of school days and increased days with restricted activity, diminished ability to learn, and diminished oral health-related quality of life. Also, if a baby tooth is lost earlier than it should be due to infection, this can cause many issues that complicate orthodontics in the future.
Here are 11 easy things you can do to keep cavities from taking root in your child’s mouth – and yours for that matter!
1. Regular brushing and flossing: Start cleaning your child’s teeth as soon as they erupt. Brush at least twice a day and floss at least once a day.
2. Avoid on demand nursing or bottle feeding throughout the night: Frequent night time bottle feeding with milk and on demand breastfeeding are associated with ECC. While ECC may not arise from breast milk alone, breastfeeding in combination with other carbohydrates in the diet has been found to lead to dental caries. Night time bottle feeding with juice, repeated use of a sippy cup, and frequent in between meals, consumption of sugar, and/or acid-containing snacks or drinks increase the risk of caries. Ceasing the bottle by the first birthday is a good goal to have to prevent tooth decay.
3. First visit by first birthday: The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends, based on risk assessment for cavities, that a child’s first dental visit be as early as 6 months of age, 6 months after the first tooth erupts, and no later than 12 months of age to establish a “dental home.” Subsequent frequency of appointments should be based upon the patient’s risk for developing cavities.
4. Drink a lot of water: Water should be the beverage of choice. Bottled water is okay, but fluoridated tap water is best. Use a filter if you are concerned about the quality of your local tap water.
5. Avoid frequent snacking and limit sugary/acidic drinks: Constant snacking, particularly on sweets and acidic foods and drinks, provides the perfect environment for cavity-inducing bacteria to do their work. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 1-6 years consume no more than 4-6 ounces of fruit juice per day from a regular cup (not a bottle or sippy cup) and as part of a meal or snack.
6. Use of fluoride supplements: A “smear” amount of fluoridated toothpaste should be used for children less than 3 years of age or any child that is swallowing toothpaste. A “pea-sized” amount of fluoridated toothpaste is appropriate for children ages 3-6 if they are adequately spitting out their toothpaste. If you live in a community without adequate levels of fluoride in the water (as is most of the Greater Baton Rouge area), your dentist and/or pediatrician may opt to prescribe a fluoride drop or tablet for your child. In this case, your child should use fluoride free, safe-to-swallow toothpaste until he or she can adequately spit out the toothpaste. Professionally-applied topical fluoride treatments at routine dental cleanings are also effective in reducing the prevalence of ECC.
7. Use of xylitol products: Xylitol is a sugar substitute that has been proven to reduce dental decay in both pregnant mothers and children. It is available in many forms, including gums, mints, chewable tablets, lozenges, toothpastes, and mouthwashes.
8. Follow your dentist’s recommendation for taking x-rays: Today’s dental x-rays are safer than ever before. So safe, in fact, that the amount of radiation a child is exposed to in one dental x-ray is roughly equivalent to the amount they are exposed to in the environment on a daily basis. In addition, many dental offices today use digital x-rays which further lessen exposure by about 80%. Many areas of dental decay, pathology, and growth and development issues can only be diagnosed with x-rays. If x-rays aren’t taken regularly and certain issues aren’t detected early, then more aggressive restorative and/or orthodontic treatment may be necessary to fix problems.
9. Consider dental sealants: Your dentist can place a protective sealant coating on your child’s teeth to prevent decay. The process is simple and can reduce cavities in the grooves of the teeth by 75%.
10. Don’t share your food and drink: Cavities can actually be contagious! If you are high risk for developing cavities, your child may be as well. Because the bacteria that causes them can be passed from one user to the next, it’s best to avoid sharing foods and drink with children. Eliminating saliva-sharing activities (ex: sharing utensils, mom orally cleansing a pacifier for baby, etc) may help decrease an infant’s or toddler’s acquisition of this bacteria.
11. Avoid sticky foods: Items like gummy fruit snacks, cookies and candies aren’t good choices for healthy teeth. Better snack options include crisp, water-dense fruit to keep your child’s mouth hydrated. Also, nuts and cheese have ingredients that help remineralize teeth and can be good additions to a lunchbox.
Most importantly, remember the Magic #2’s: Brush your child’s teeth twice a day for two minutes each time, and be sure to visit your pediatric dentist twice a year!
This post is sponsored by Associates in Pediatric Dentistry. Brynn Lewis Leroux, a Board Certified Pediatric Dentist, has been practicing with Associates in Pediatric Dentistry for 6 years. Her practice serves the tri-parish area with five doctors and four locations in Baton Rouge, Denham Springs, Prairieville, and Geismar. Parents and siblings are always welcome to join patients in the clinic area. Dr. Leroux, along with the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), suggests your child’s first dental visit be by the age of one. A native of Maringouin, LA, Dr. Leroux graduated as Valedictorian from Catholic High School of Pointe Coupee and continued on to study Biological Sciences at LSU in Baton Rouge. She attended LSU School of Dentistry and was ranked 2nd in her graduating class. She then proceeded to the Medical University of South Carolina to complete a two year residency in Pediatric Dentistry. She is an active member of local, regional and national dental associations and honor societies and regularly attends continuing education seminars to remain up-to-date with the latest information in pediatric dentistry. Dr. Leroux volunteers her time by being an active member of The Ring Community Church in addition to the many community service projects that her dental practice participates in. In her spare time, Dr. Leroux, her husband, Lance, and her children, Anson and Amelie, enjoy entertaining family and friends, attending LSU football games, exercising, and traveling. You can schedule an appointment online at www.aipdbr.com or by calling 225-924-6622.