We’ve been busy this month visiting schools around Mt. Pleasant. Why all the field trips? Perhaps you didn’t know it, but February is National Children’s Dental Health Month.
National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM) aims to motivate children to adopt good oral hygiene. We have been out among the community to take our message straight to the children.
Now it’s your turn to hear the message.
Children rely on their parents, teachers, and caregivers to stay on top of their oral hygiene when they are young, and to instill in them good habits so they’ll take care of themselves when they are older. Unfortunately, children haven’t been getting the level of care they need.
While overall numbers for dental health have been going up nationwide, in a certain demographic (children), we see some troubling numbers:
– 40 percent of children ages two to 11 have had tooth decay in their primary teeth.
– 30 percent of children ages two to five are affected by tooth decay.
– 20 percent of children ages five to 11 have at least one untreated decaying tooth.
Prevent Tooth Decay
This year’s message from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) is to “Choose Tap Water for a Sparkling Smile.” What makes tap water so special?
First, drinking water instead of juice, soda, or milk will itself go a long way toward preventing cavities. In fact, one of the biggest issues dentists are focusing on right now is something called baby bottle tooth decay. Infants put to bed with a bottle of juice or milk are at significantly increased risk of developing tooth decay as babies. Choose water!
Second, most tap water has been fortified with fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral that can help prevent cavities and keep enamel strong. This is why it’s a primary ingredient in your toothpaste. So switching to fortified tap water is a twofold prevention strategy for protecting little teeth.
Along with drinking more tap water, we have a few other basic strategies to help parents protect their children from tooth decay.
Brush Twice Per Day, for Two Minutes Each Time
Teeth are candidates for tooth decay from the moment they appear. Most babies have their first teeth come in at around month six. Before then you should regularly clean their gums with a damp washcloth.
Once some teeth show up, it’s time to begin the routine of brushing, always following the 2 x 2 rule (two minutes, two times per day). Use a soft, child-sized brush with a tiny dab of fluoride toothpaste. When they have at least two teeth that touch, it’s time to begin flossing.
This is also the time to consider the first dentist appointment. We generally recommend that infants have their first dental appointment prior to their first birthday.
By age three, your child will probably have a full set of primary teeth. They might not be permanent, but it’s still vital that you take good care of them. Primary teeth help the adult teeth come in properly. At this age, children should be learning to brush their own teeth, using a pea-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste. Remember that they shouldn’t swallow it.
Cut Back on Sugary Drinks and Snacks
American children consume a disturbing amount of sugar. Some estimates put young children’s consumption (ages one to three) at an average of 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day, or about 40 pounds of sugar a year. That trend continues upward, with teenagers averaging about 34 teaspoons per day.
That’s an enormous sum! Most guidelines suggest restricting those quantities to three to six teaspoons per day, depending on age. (A typical can of soda has nearly nine teaspoons of added sugar.)
Such massive quantities of sugar are a dentist’s nightmare. At the very least, keep sweet drinks and foods restricted to mealtimes. As far as the teeth go, the biggest issue is the frequency of sugar exposure, so sticking to water in between meals (for example) will go a long way to protecting kids’ teeth.
Don’t Let Your Children Fall Prey to Tooth Decay
While our focus during National Children’s Dental Health Month has been on young children (the age group that needs the most improvement), don’t forget about older kids who already have a full set of adult teeth. Hopefully they have had a twice-a-day brushing habit (don’t forget flossing!) ingrained into their behavioral patterns by now, but if not, get to it!
Perhaps my biggest concern for older children is the vast quantities of soda and sports drinks they consume. A report released just last month indicated that sugar-loaded drinks account for 60 percent of teens’ total daily calories from added sugar. Help your adolescents develop healthy habits now so that they don’t bring a two-sodas-per-day habit into adulthood.
If you have any questions about your child’s particular case, please contact our office and we will be happy to help out.