February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. In the United States, early childhood decay (tooth decay dental cavities) is the number one chronic disease affecting young children. Amazingly, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) early childhood, dental caries are five times more common than asthma and a whopping twenty times more common than diabetes. You can help change these statistics by instilling good dental hygiene habits such as brushing, flossing and regular visits to the dentist. Parents can also help put children on the path to a healthy smile by leading by example.
Tooth Brushing and flossing:
All of us know that we should brush and floss ideally after every meal, but how many of us actually do it? An American Dental Association (ADA) study shows that 28.7% of women and 20.7% of men brush after every meal. 50.5% of Americans claim to floss daily, but San Francisco Cosmetic Dentist Dr. Edward L. Loev, D.M.D., thinks that the number is lower. Dr. Loev, laughs a little and says, “The best brushing and flossing some patient’s do all year is 15 minutes before a check-up appointment with their dentist. We appreciate the effort but we can tell.” Kids want to copy adults. By making brushing and flossing after meals a habit, we can instill this important routine in our children’s lives. Children need to brush and floss to help to remove bacteria and food that can build up throughout the day and in between meals from their teeth. These healthy dental habits can help prevent cavities and gingivitis and reduce bad breath. Children with healthy teeth and gums have a healthy, bright smile, which can help with their psychological growth as well as their overall health.
When should we start thinking about oral health in our children?
It’s never too early to start instilling good oral health habits in our children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 40% of children have tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten, and children with dental caries in their baby teeth are at a substantially higher risk for cavities in their adult teeth. Believe it or not, it is advisable to start working on your child’s oral hygiene routine during the early weeks of their lives. Check with your pediatrician for tips and techniques.
So what can you do as a parent to help instill good oral hygiene and prevent decay in your children? Here are a few tips to review:
Supervise and use modeling with younger children. Parents should help children under six years old brush their teeth twice a day, once in the morning after breakfast and once at night before they go to bed. Start by brushing your teeth next to them and letting them copy you. Once you have finished this, use their toothbrush to help them to reach the difficult places in the back of their mouth, on the insides of their teeth, and up along the gumline. Also, make sure that you are applying the children’s toothpaste; a pea-sized amount is all that the AAP recommends. Floss together too, once your child is proficient at brushing independently. Until then, model the flossing behavior, floss picks with animal and dinosaur shapes and fruity flavors can make this chore more manageable and more fun for little fingers. Children’s teeth should be flossed at least once a day, preferably at night. When flossing your young children's teeth, sit so that your eye is at their mouth level or stand behind them with their head tilted backward to offer you a better view. The handy floss picks are very helpful when flossing young children’s mouths.
You are what you drink (and eat)
As parents, we are in charge of building healthy, strong children. By limiting the sugars and starches that we consume and give them, we can instill better long time food and drink choices. Fruit and fruit juice are good, right? Wrong! While whole fruit is a healthy vitamin and fiber-filled snack, fruit juice is mostly sugar and should not be given to children from a bottle or sippy cup throughout the day or at bedtime as it can lead to tooth decay. Bacteria thrive on sugar, by limiting your child's sugar intake, you can also restrict this plaque and bacterial growth. Water is a great thirst quencher and should be given to children all day. Milk is a good choice at certain times and with meals but contains natural sugars (~12 grams per serving compared to between 20 & 33grams in juice) that should be brushed away after consumption.
Eat and share healthy snacks as part of a well-balanced diet. Give children a choice between two or three snacks like cheese, fruit, or veggie sticks. Including your children in food decisions and discussions help them understand food pros and cons and make them feel like they are part of the process and have some control over their bodies. Starchy snacks like chips, goldfish snacks and crackers (carbohydrates) are broken down into sugar and cause cavities, so offer in whole grain versions of these snacks in moderation, in conjunction with the healthier options and emphasize brushing or at very least rinsing with water after enjoying.
Do you visit your dentist at least twice a year?
Well… if you don’t, it's hard to insist that your children do. Let your kids know when you are visiting the dentist and talk about how nice your teeth feel afterward when they are clean. Children, like adults, should have regular visits (twice per year) with a children's dentist or pedodontist. These specially trained and equipped dentists have chosen to focus their careers and practices on children. Their offices and teams are equipped especially to make children comfortable. They often have children's entertainment like televisions, Ipad’s, props, and treasure boxes to make your children look forward to seeing the dentist. During the visit, a dental exam can reveal cavities and other conditions in growing children. Use your child's dental team as a resource to help you, help your children care for their smiles. The dentist and team may suggest proactive dental care, dental sealants, and in some cases interceptive orthodontic care as part of an overall oral health routine.
You are the best teacher and influencer for your children. They should inspire you to the best and enthuse you to teach them to make the best choices.
The ongoing fluoride debate: To fluoride or not?
Fluoride and its benefits versus dangers have been in debate for a long time. Fluoride is a mineral that is present in many foods, drinking water, toothpaste and mouthwash. The ADA recently changed their recommendation on fluoride. Fluoride toothpaste was previously suggested for children over the age of 2 to 3; when they can spit and not just swallow toothpaste, The ADA now recommends the use of fluoride toothpaste for all children regardless of age. Fluoride has been found safe in numerous studies (use just a small smear for children 3 and under), and it has been proven to be more effective with more use. Repeated applications of fluoride allow it to incorporate into a tooth and make it more resistant to the effects of acid and can help prevent cavities.
Dr. Edward L. Loev, D.M.D., has been caring for his patients for decades from his dental office that overlooks San Francisco’s Union Square. He doesn’t treat children in his practice but is the father of 3 and the grandfather of 2; that together with his team takes pride in providing the best quality and most gentle dental care and education available. Over the years, they have transformed 100’s of “non-dentist” people into people who actually enjoy their visits and take pride in their smiles. Many of these non-dentist people had bad experiences with dentists as a child. Pedodontist (kids dentists) help instill a positive correlation between oral health and care and can prevent them from developing a fear of the dentist. A dental relationship should be a positive one; make sure that you and, if applicable your children feel comfortable and cared for by your dentist if the experience is “meh…” then ask friends, family and colleagues about their dentist. If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area and are in need or want of a new dentist, Dr. Loev and his team would love the opportunity to meet you and earn your trust and loyalty call them at 415-392-2072 or schedule an appointment online today.