A leading chronic health issue for children in the U.S.
By Dr. Anthony Mendicino, DDS/ Dental Director, and Laurie Turner, RDH /School-Based Dental Administrator, Finger Lakes Community Health.
40% of children have tooth decay? Yes, that’s a startling statistic but it’s true. Tooth decay or Early Childhood Caries (ECC) is the single most common chronic childhood disease affecting children today in the US. Tooth decay can compromise the health, development, and quality of life in children both short and long term. Oral health issues, such as tooth decay can cause:
- Inability to chew foods well and decreased appetite
- Persistent pain
- Attention issues and depression
- Dental infections and abscesses
The good news is, tooth decay is 100 % preventable! It is recommended that your child visits a dentist by age 1. At that point, the dental providers teach caregivers oral hygiene, discuss fluoride, and diet.
Another important tip is that babies shouldn’t be put to bed with a bottle. Milk and juice contain sugar that coats the teeth the entire time they are sleeping, causing tooth decay. If a bottle works to soothe a baby before sleep, opt for filling it with water.
As soon as the first tooth erupts, an adult caregiver should brush the child’s teeth after meals. Before bedtime is the most important time to brush. When the back teeth touch each other, it is important to use dental floss or a flosser to clean between their teeth. Teaching good habits at an early age is an essential step in preventing cavities in the future.
Avoid sugary treat and beverages — even juice!
Frequent eating of sugary treats and beverages causes tooth decay. Moderation is key! Children (and adults) shouldn’t graze or savor candy and sugary drinks in their mouths, including sports drinks and juice. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should not be offered more than 4 oz. of juice each day. Stick to designated meal and snack times to reduce the frequency of consuming sugars and carbohydrates.
The best solution is to eat a variety of healthy foods for snacks, such as fruits, veggies, peanut butter, yogurt, and cheese. Then drink water, swishing before you swallow to rinse the food into your stomach. If you are going to have a sweet, try to save it for dessert after your meal and then go brush!
Fluoride supplements may be a consideration if your drinking water does not contain fluoride. Fluoride has been shown to reduce tooth decay by as much as 50%. Geneva, Newark and Canandaigua all have fluoride in the water.
Application of fluoride varnish at your child’s dental visit has been shown to help prevent tooth decay, slow it down, stop it from getting worse or at times reverse the decay process, and can heal teeth in the early stages of decay.
Dental sealants are another dental treatment that helps to fight tooth decay in children. The most likely location for a cavity to develop is on the chewing surfaces of their back teeth. These surfaces contain many tiny grooves called pits and fissures. Food and bacteria can get stuck in these areas and stay there because they are difficult to clean with a toothbrush. A sealant is a thin coating that when painted on the chewing surface of the tooth will fill in the pits and fissures. This creates a smooth chewing surface that food and bacteria do not stick to. School-age children (ages 6-11) without sealants have almost 3 times more first molar cavities than those with sealants.
With proper home care, eating a healthy diet, and regular visits to the dentist, your child begins a lifetime of fun, preventative dental care with a healthy smile!