Despite significant improvements in dental care over the past 50 years, tooth decay, though preventable, is the number one chronic infectious disease affecting children today.
Parents play a crucial role in their children’s dental health. Good oral hygiene and a balanced, nutritious diet help combat tooth decay and gum disease.
Oral hygiene brush-up
Ave Donachie, registered dental hygienist at Medford Family Dental Care in Medford, NJ, finds that most parents instill effective dental practices in their children. “They encourage brushing two times a day, flossing and are routinely bringing kids in for hygiene visits every six months. Many parents have had problems with their own teeth, and they don’t want that for their children.”
George Thomas Lynch, DDS, who goes by Dr. George at Cobblestone Kids Pediatric Dentistry in Philadelphia, finds that parents try diligently to take good care of their children’s teeth but that “It’s often the diet/nutrition link” that causes problems in kids’ dental health. Often, parents think they are providing sound food and drink options to their kids, but many so-called healthy choices are not so great for teeth. Gummy vitamins and squeezable fruit pouches, for example, seem healthy but pack a potent punch of sugar that can lead to tooth decay.
Robert M. Collins, DDS, a board-certified pediatric dentist in Wilmington, DE, cites juice as another sneaky culprit. Labeled as all-natural and organic, many juices contain large quantities of sugar. ”The amount of juice that children drink is a big problem; 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds are getting too much at a young age.”
Dentists recommend kids drink fluoridated water and take fluoride supplements as a strong defense against tooth decay and disease. Always check with your dentist before using any of these products.
Baby's first dental visit
Routine oral hygiene begins at birth. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends the following:
- Wipe your newborn baby’s gums with a clean washcloth
- Softly brush your toddler’s emerging teeth
- Brush your preschooler’s teeth with a pea sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, make sure they spit it out
- Floss their teeth every day when two or more touch
- Supervise brushing and flossing until your child is 7 or 8
- Schedule checkups every 6 months
A child's first pediatric dental visit should occur within 6 months of first tooth. Never put a baby to bed with their bottle. Don’t dip pacifiers in honey or sugar. Don’t fill bottles with juice or sugar water. Encourage drinking from a cup and giving up pacifiers at the age of 1. Don’t share spoons with your children as bacteria can pass from your mouth to theirs. Protect teeth with sealants, a coating applied by the dentist which helps prevent decay. Have children wear mouth guards when playing sports.
Pediatric dental trends 2014
Advancements in imaging, lasers, crowns, braces and injections have streamlined pediatric dentistry, making checkups and procedures easier, quicker and more effective.
- Safer X-rays. Among the trends on the list of Medford Family Dental Care’s John Kupcha, DDS, are safer digital x-rays that “greatly” reduce radiation exposure and instantly produce pictures.
- Teen teeth whitening. Whitening teeth is not a new trend but is increasingly popular with the teenage crowd. Dr. Kupcha says that many of the beautiful smiles in high school yearbooks are courtesy of over-the-counter white strips. Stronger methods of whitening include night-time trays and the in-office Zoom system. Whitening is not recommended for younger children, as it may cause sensitivity.
- Xylitol as a cavity-reducer. Dr. Collins is excited about the use of Xylitol, a natural sugar replacement, in toothpastes, gum, mints and candy. He cites research that shows Xylitol has been proved to reduce levels of bacteria that produce cavities. The American Dental Association recommends it for patients with moderate to high risk of tooth decay.
- Kid-friendly dental environments. To reduce the anxiety that often accompanies a trip to the dentist, today’s pediatric dental offices are relaxed and kid-friendly by design. Dr. George’s Center City office flaunts an Xbox in the waiting room and a ceiling-mounted television in the examining room. He says watching Curious George keeps little ones calm and happy, focused on something other than their teeth.
Ask the Dentist: teeth grinding (bruxism)
Is it normal for my child to grind their teeth at night?
Dr.Kupcha: “It is fairly common for parents to hear their kids grinding at night. No appliance therapy is recommended in children. Some believe it is due to allergies and they are grinding to relieve pressure in their ears.”
Dr. George: “Teeth grinding in children tends to be pretty normal. It is not stress related. It is usually the result of physiological changes, growth and development of adult teeth. It is sometimes related to extra energy. Night guards are not recommended for children.”
Always refer to your pediatric dentist if you have concerns.
Janet Tumelty is a mom and freelance writer from South Jersey.