The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry says tooth decay in young children is rising at an alarming rate. According to its recent report on pediatric oral health, 28% of U.S. children aged 2 to 5 years are affected by tooth decay in primary teeth. 5-10% of U.S. children have oral health issues by the age of three, and, by age five, about 60% of U.S. children will have had tooth decay or cavities at some point. Lack of attention to oral health issues in young children can lead to serious complications, including infections, chronic pain and early tooth loss.
February is National Children’s Dental Health month – a good time to remind parents and caregivers of ways for children to maintain healthy mouths and smiles. We’d like to share these tips on how to keep children’s teeth healthy, strong and disease-free.
Appointments – early and often. I recommend parents schedule their child’s first oral exam after baby teeth begin erupting and routine visits every six months. Regular appointments started early in a child’s life allow us to assess the health of primary teeth, as well as address habits, such as thumb-sucking or pacifier use, that may affect alignment. I tend to look further at future needs to correct bite and aesthetic issues that could appear early without early orthodontic intervention. I also look at other preventive measures that can help protect the teeth, such as sports guards. Perhaps more importantly, early routine visits also give families exposure to the most current oral hygiene techniques and recommendations.
Hygiene at home. Parents and caregivers should reinforce proper brushing and flossing practices at home, and offer hands-on help with these tasks with young children. I recommend helping children brush until about age 7 or 8. Many parents are surprised to hear this, but, until that point, kids often lack the manual dexterity – and dedication – to brush and floss effectively. Using fun songs, timers and reward charts can help motivate your child to brush the suggested two minutes, two times a day.
Healthy eating habits. Children’s teeth are highly susceptible to dietary influences, so bad habits can sabotage good oral health. Over consumption of sugary foods and drinks produces an unhealthy amount of acids in the mouth, which initiate tooth decay. Sticking to a reasonable amount of sugar and including foods that protect tooth enamel – such as cheese, nuts, milk and meat – will lead to stronger teeth. And substituting foods with higher water content – such as firm, crunchy fruits and vegetables – will help minimize acid production.
If you are unsure when to bring your child in for his or her first check-up, please feel free to call and speak to us. And at your next appointment, please let us know if you have any questions about how best to care for your child’s teeth and gums – we are happy to provide extra guidance and support!