Springfield, MO – Do you make sure your children brush and floss their teeth every day? Childhood tooth decay is the number one chronic childhood disease, and can have lasting effects on your children.
“Beginning a proper oral care routine during childhood is critical to fight off tooth decay,” says Dr. Nick Matthews, an Ozark family dentist. “Many people don’t often pay close attention to baby teeth, because they eventually fall out on their own. But pediatric dental disease can have very serious repercussions for your child and his or her overall health.”
Early childhood caries is five times more common than asthma, four times more common that childhood obesity and 20 times more common that juvenile diabetes. It can begin as soon as a child’s teeth begin to erupt, typically around age 6 months.
Childhood tooth decay can lead to serious issues. The teeth can become so painful that it hurts to eat and even talk, leading to malnutrition and even cognitive delays. Bacteria can cause infections, which can lead to surgery and serious dental work for your child.
Poor oral care is also linked to a host of other serious issues, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. So caring for your child’s teeth today can set the up for a healthy future.
“The good news is that early childhood caries are preventable,” says Dr. Tracy Davis. “We define early childhood caries as one or more decayed teeth, teeth missing as a result of caries, or filled tooth services in the baby teeth in children six years of age or younger.”
The process of tooth decay is initiated by bacteria. We all have bacteria in our mouths, but if we aren’t properly brushing and flossing, the bad bacteria can wreak havoc. When we eat and drink, the bacteria comes into contact with it, and can produce acid that then attacks the surfaces of our teeth. When we begin to lose the protective mineral surface, cavities can result.
It is estimated that up to 50 percent of the childhood population has never seen a dentist, and early childhood caries is found more often in children who are economically disadvantaged, especially in the population that qualifies for Medicaid coverage. In fact, in children ages two to five, 70% of childhood caries are found in just eight percent of the population.
Studies have also shown that children who live in families above poverty level, but who do not eat breakfast daily or who eat fewer than five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, have a risk of developing caries in their baby teeth.
“This tells us that we must do more to ensure access to quality dental care for everyone, beginning as soon as the teeth begin to erupt,” says Dr. Matthews. “Because our oral health has such an impact on our overall health, we need to ensure proper education so everyone knows how important caring for their teeth and gums is.”
Early childhood caries can not only cause pain and infection in children’s mouths, they can affect how your child speaks and communicates, how they sleep and learn, and even how they play with other children. But there are things you can do to prevent tooth decay in your children. The Ozark dentists at Excel Dental recommend the following:
- Visit a dentist when your child’s first tooth appears, or no later than the first birthday.
- Wipe the gums with a clean cloth or wet gauze after each feeding.
- Begin brushing as soon as the first tooth appears.
- Never put your child to sleep with a bottle.
- Wipe the child’s teeth clean before putting him to bed.
Dental care for toddlers and young kids:
- Transition to a cup by the child’s first birthday, and only use a sippy cup as a transition between bottle and regular cup.
- Only give juice or milk at mealtimes. Have your child drink plenty of water throughout the day to prevent the sugars from other drinks having dangerous effects on your child’s teeth.
- Help your children brush and floss their teeth until she is ready to do it on her own.
- Encourage your child to eat a healthy diet with a range of nutritious food to ensure his body is getting the right nutrients.
Find a dental home for your family and begin regular visits by the time your child is one. Creating a relationship with a dentist early on will show your child the importance of properly caring for their teeth, and will make office visits less intimidating.
But perhaps the most important way you can influence your child’s dental health is by modeling proper dental care yourself. If your child sees you brushing and flossing each day, paying attention to the sugary foods and drinks you consume, and regularly visiting a dentist, he will be more likely to take proper care of his teeth, too.