Protecting the Pearly Whites: Your Child’s Dental Health and You
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, an opportunity to reflect on the importance of children’s dental health and how to support healthy teeth. Protecting your child’s dental health helps avoid preventable dental diseases, and proper support helps detect dental problems early and get them treated.
Children with poor dental health are more likely to miss school and get poor grades than other children. Dental disease can also cause pain, infections, and eating difficulties. And in the long term, they can affect speech, speaking, learning, and self-esteem.
Dental cavities are the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States. But other dental conditions like injuries, orthodontic difficulties, and gum disease also cause problems that deserve attention. And even though children will eventually lose their baby teeth, it is still important to treat all cavities in order to prevent potentially serious dental conditions. Here’s more about protecting your kids’ dental health.
Common dental conditions in children
Common dental conditions in children include the following.
Dental cavities: Also called tooth decay or simply cavities, dental cavities are children’s most common dental condition.
Orthodontic problems: Any abnormalities with the arrangement of your child’s teeth are called orthodontic problems. These may be something a child is born with, but they could also develop when they use incorrect pacifiers or suck their fingers for too long.
Injuries: Children are always playing. And sometimes, they get involved in sports with a higher risk of injuries. This can cause injuries, and it’s important to protect your kids against this.
Gum disease: Also called periodontitis, gum disease can affect children causing swollen, bleeding gums.
9 Ways to protect your child’s dental health
Here are some ways to protect your child’s teeth from damage and disease, according to experts at the American Dental Association.
Start cleaning their teeth early and regularly: Even before the first teeth erupt at about six months, you can start cleaning your baby’s gums with a clean damp cloth twice a day. Once the first tooth appears, start brushing twice a day with a soft toothbrush for kids aged 0–2 years and just a smear of toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice). From 3 to 6 years, use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and keep brushing twice a day for at least two minutes. Keep supervising them till about 6 years, when they don’t swallow toothpaste anymore.
Avoid sweets and sugary drinks: They feed the bacteria that cause tooth decay. And although fruit is better than sugary candy, fruit sugar causes cavities just like candy sugar does. The important point is that its a good idea to brush afterward, whether its sweets or fruit.
Don’t let them fall sleep with a feeding bottle: Infant milk contains sugar that can also feed bacteria and help damage teeth. If your child falls asleep with a bottle, that milk can stay in their mouth and create a welcoming environment for the bacteria to damage their teeth. This even has a special name: mild caries. Instead, feed them and clean their teeth before bedtime. If you MUST provide a bottle in bed, make sure it contains just plain water.
Don’t let people (or pets) kiss your baby’s mouth or share their cutlery or pacifiers: The bacteria that cause tooth decay are readily spread from person to person through kisses, along with other germs like Human papillomavirus (HPV).
Use fluoridated water and fluoridated toothpaste: Fluoride helps to protect your child’s teeth. But make sure they don’t swallow toothpaste because fluoride can cause stomach upsets and more serious complaints.
Use orthodontic pacifiers if you must: Pacifiers can soothe a crying baby. But you need to use them carefully because they get contaminated with germs and make your baby suck less, leading to malnutrition. Another thing to know is pacifiers can interfere with the alignment of your baby’s teeth as they erupt. To avoid this, use orthodontic pacifiers. They may be pricier, but they are cheaper than getting braces later to fix the problem.
Use a mouth guard during risky sports: If your child plays any risky sports, a mouth guard can help protect their teeth from injuries. The American Dental Association recommends a mouth guard for sports like acrobatics, basketball, boxing, hockey, football, gymnastics, handball, lacrosse, curling, martial arts, racquetball, rugby, shot putting, skateboarding, skiing, skydiving, soccer, squash, and surfing.
Start dental visits early: You can schedule the first dentist’s trip when your child’s first tooth appears or by their first birthday.
Discuss getting dental sealants for your child: Dental sealants are a quick, easy, pain-free way to protect your child’s permanent teeth from tooth decay. Ask your dentist about sealants and if they are suitable for your child.
Dental care is an important part of raising healthy, happy children. By starting early and ensuring they learn the proper care habits for their teeth, you can help protect your kids from dental disease.
- Stephanie L. Jackson, VannWilliam F. Jr, Jonathan B. Kotch, Bhavna T. Pahel, and Jessica Y. Lee, 2011:Impact of Poor Oral Health on Children’s School Attendance and Performance.American Journal of Public Health 101, 1900_1906. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2010.200915
- CDC. Children’s oral health. Basics
- ADA. Tiny Smiles
- Poison. My Child ate toothpaste
- CDC. Dental sealants prevent cavities