Tooth decay is common, but preventable
Tooth decay is one of the most common chronic childhood conditions in the United States. If left untreated, tooth decay can cause pain, infections and lead to future problems.
February marks Childhood Dental Health Month and Coastal Health & Wellness (CHW) is taking this opportunity to highlight what families can do to fight tooth decay.
About one in five children ages 5-11 have at least one untreated decayed tooth while one in seven adolescents ages 12-19 have the same problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The good news is that tooth decay, also known as cavities, is preventable,” said CHW Dental Director Hanna Lindskog, DDS.
Teeth typically begin appearing in infants at 6 months of age.
Develop good habits
Developing good habits now may help children develop good habits for a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.
Parents can begin cleaning their baby’s mouth within the first few days after birth. Just wipe the gums with a clean, moist gauze or washcloth. Don’t wait to visit the doctor. Schedule a dental visit as soon as the child’s first tooth appears. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends first trips to the dentist take place within six months after the first tooth appears, but no later than the first birthday.
As children get older, they can take a more active role in their tooth care.
“Always watch your children brushing their teeth to make sure they’re brushing all their teeth, brushing the right amount of time and don’t swallow the toothpaste,” Lindskog said. “Children should brush their teeth for at least two minutes, twice a day.”
Use toothpaste the size of a grain of rice for infants and toddlers ages 0-3 and the size of a pea for children 3 years old or older.
What is fluoride and what does it do?
Fluoride is a mineral found in natural water – from oceans to lakes and ponds. Fluoride is also sometimes added to city tap water, toothpaste and mouth rinse. It makes tooth enamel more resistant to tooth decay and can even repair weakened tooth enamel.
“Babies and toddlers who don’t receive enough fluoride may be at an increased risk for tooth decay,” Lindskog said.
Try these tips, too
- Limit between-meal snacks.
- Chew sugarless gum. Chewing sugarless gum can help increase saliva flow, washing out food and the acid that can cause tooth decay.
- Monitor beverages. Choose water or low-fat milk instead of sugary sodas or juices.
- Avoid sugary foods.
- Don’t forget to floss daily.
- Don’t put a baby to bed with a bottle or sippy cup.
- Drink water with fluoride.
If you’re drinking water that is not fluoridated, ask your dentist, family doctor or pediatrician if your child needs oral fluoride supplements like drops, tablets or lozenges. Also, talk to your child’s pediatrician or dentist about whether fluoride varnish is the right choice for your child.
CHW provides dental services for all ages. For more information on services or to schedule an appointment, call 409-938-2234, 281-309-0255 or visit www.coastalhw.org.