Sipping, Snacking and Oral Health
Eating and drinking patterns of children may affect how quickly they develop tooth decay. It is estimated that the consumption of sugary soft drinks (soda, fruit juice and sports drinks) has increased by over 500 percent in the last 50 years. In an average 12oz. can of soda there is over 40 grams of sugar; which averages out to about 3-5 tablespoons per can. When bacteria (plaque) comes in contact with sugar in the mouth, acid is produced, which attacks the teeth for 20 minutes longer than if the sugar was not present. This can eventually result in tooth decay. Unfortunately, most of the food and beverage choices that our children make are where they spend most of their weekday time—in school. The American Dental Association offers a few points to consider when helping your children make healthy dietary choices while at school:
- Ensure that the school’s food and vending services offer selections that are nutritious.
- Make sure that water is available and encourage your children to bring a bottle of water with them to class.
- Encourage your children to limit eating and drinking between meals. When they are snacking, give preference to nutritious foods.
- Be mindful of the effects of frequent consumption of sugary beverages and non-nutritious snack foods.
Here Comes the Tooth Fairy!
Children’s primary teeth, often called “baby teeth” are equally as important as their permanent teeth. Primary teeth help to develop speech, chew, and also hold space in the jaws for their permanent teeth, which are developing under the gums. The first teeth that generally erupt are the lower central incisors, followed closely by the upper central incisors. Primary teeth can begin to come in as early as 4 months old. Most children will have a full set of 20 primary teeth by the time they are 3 years old. Primary teeth generally begin to fall out around the age of 6. This process can continue until approximately 17. Adults have 32 permanent teeth, including the third molars, or “wisdom” teeth.
Oral Health for Children
Begin brushing your childrens’ teeth with a little water on a clean washcloth or a soft baby toothbrush as soon as the first tooth appears. If you are considering using toothpaste on your child that is under 2 years of age, ask your dentist or physician what type of toothpaste is recommended. Supervise and assist children over the age of 2 with brushing. Make sure that your child brushes with only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, and that they avoid swallowing it. Teach children to spit out any remaining toothpaste and rinse after brushing. Most children should be able to brush on their own by the age of 6 or 7. Parents should help floss as soon as any two teeth touch one another. This removes plaque that is in-between the teeth where a toothbrush cannot reach. A first visit to the dentist should be scheduled around the age of 3, or when all of the primary teeth have erupted (unless concerns arise earlier). Besides checking for tooth decay and other problems, Dr. James can demonstrate how to clean your child’s teeth properly, as well as to evaluate any adverse habits, such as thumb sucking. Following this initial dental visit, it is recommended that children return every 6 months for a bi-annual professional teeth cleaning and dental exam. Once permanent teeth are present, Dr. James may recommend fluoride treatments, as well as dental sealants to help protect against decay-causing bacteria.
Prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Decay in infants is often referred to as “baby bottle tooth decay.” It can destroy teeth and most often occurs on the upper front teeth. In some unfortunate and serious cases, infants and toddlers with baby bottle tooth decay can result in dental restorations or even extractions. The good news is that this type of decay is highly preventable. Do not put your baby to bed a night or for a nap with a bottle. If you must give your baby a bottle at nap or bedtime, fill it with plain water—not juice, formula or even milk. All of these beverages have sugar in them, which bacteria in the mouth use as food and can cause tooth decay. It is also recommended that you avoid giving your baby a bottle filled with sweetened drinks. If your baby uses a pacifier, ask Dr. James which ones are most recommended and do not dip it in anything sweet such as honey or sugar. Wipe your baby’s gums with a clean soft cloth dipped in water after all feedings, and begin brushing their teeth as soon as their first tooth appears.
Fluoride is a natural mineral distributed widely in nature and found throughout the earth’s crust. In the 1930’s, researchers discovered that people who grew up drinking fluorinated water experienced up to two-thirds fewer cavities than those who did not have fluoride in their water. Studies since then have repeatedly shown that when fluoride is added to a community’s water supply, tooth decay decreases. For over five decades the American Dental Association has endorsed the use of fluoride-containing products and fluoridation of public water supplies as a safe and effective method to prevent tooth decay. The use of fluoride may also help to heal early decay. Fluoride is not only used in public water supplies, but a treatment of fluoride can be applied topically at a dental visit. This helps to strengthen the enamel on teeth and also helps re-mineralize and strengthen already decalcified enamel on teeth. Fluoride can also be found in many types of toothpastes and mouth rinses. For more information regarding fluoride, as well as a list of resources on whether or not your tap water contains fluoride, visit the American Dental Association’s website at www.ada.org.
Dental sealants are a thin plastic coating painted on the chewing surface of back teeth, which act as a barrier against disease fighting bacteria. The sealants are usually applied to the grooves on the chewing surface of back teeth (pre-molars and molars), which are most susceptible to decay. Children should get dental sealants as soon as their permanent molars come in, before decay attacks the teeth.