Not today, tooth decay!


February is children’s dental health awareness month. Tooth decay (cavities) is the most common chronic disease among youth in the United States. More than 45 percent of American children between the ages of 2 and 19 experience tooth decay in their primary or permanent teeth.  Tooth decay can lead to problems later in life such as heart disease, so it is important to keep your child’s teeth healthy.

From the moment the first baby tooth arrives there are steps you can take to keep it healthy. One way to spot early tooth decay is to look for white spots on your child’s teeth. This is often the first sign that the tooth is losing calcium and minerals needed to keep it strong.  If left untreated, tooth decay can lead to pain, loss of teeth and serious infections. A daily dental hygiene routine including the use of fluoride can help prevent tooth decay from a young age. Fluoride is a natural mineral that has the ability to safely slow or stop cavities from forming by helping to strengthen the enamel layer on teeth. When fluoride is absorbed into the weakened surface of a tooth, it strengthens enamel. Strong enamel helps fight cavity causing acids that form when bacteria in the mouth combine with sugars. 

It’s never too early or late in life to think about sugar intake. Some foods and drinks that seem harmless are actually packed full of cavity causing sugar. With infants and young children, it is especially important to avoid added sugar. 100% fruit or vegetable juices should not be given to infants younger than 12 months. In the second year of life fruit juice is not necessary and most fruit intake should come from whole fruit. If 100% fruit juice is provided, up to 4 ounces per day can fit in a healthy diet pattern and juices containing added sugars should be avoided. Sugar sweetened beverages such as regular soda, juice drinks (not 100% fruit juice), sports drinks, and flavored water with sugar should not be given to children under 2.

Drinking more water, specifically tap water, helps increase the amount of fluoride your child receives daily as fluoride has been added to drinking water in the United States since 1945. Many studies have shown that community water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by 25%! Do keep in mind that fluoride and pH of water vary with bottled water. The peak health benefits happen when the drinking water has 0.7mg/L or fluoride.

In addition to drinking water, fluoride can be found in toothpaste and mouth rinses. As always, too much of a good thing can be harmful. Too much fluoride in the first eight years of life, when permanent teeth are being formed, can result in white lines or streaks on the teeth. The good news is that topical fluoride rinses and toothpastes are not strong enough to cause harm.

In order to optimize your child’s dental health, it is important to follow a daily dental hygiene routine. As soon as teeth start to appear, use a tiny, the size of a grain of rice, amount of toothpaste and rub or brush on the teeth. Children ages 3 to 6 need toothpaste in pea sized amounts. Twice daily brushing is recommended, after breakfast and before bedtime.  You may want to consider an electric toothbrush for young kids to aid in plaque removal. Flossing should begin as soon as two teeth touch, typically around ages 2-3. Flossing should occur once daily, preferably with the evening brushing.  Dental professionals recommend having your child spit out toothpaste and use a fluoride rinse instead of water. Fluoride rinses come in a variety of flavors and brands available at pharmacies and convenient stores everywhere. It is never too early to start your child out on a good dental hygiene routine. I strongly recommend that children see a dental professional every 6 months to check for cavities and reinforce good dental hygiene. If you have any questions, as always, Beth at Sparta Drugs and I are available. Have a great week!          


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