Tooth decay common chronic childhood problem
Roughly one in five children ages 5-11 have at least one untreated decayed tooth and one in seven adolescents ages 12-19 have the same problem, making tooth decay 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 National Children’s Dental Health Month and Coastal Health & Wellness (CHW) is taking this opportunity to highlight what families can do to fight tooth decay. This year celebrates water fluoridation with 2020 marking the 75th anniversary of community water fluoridation.
“Tooth decay, also known as cavities, is preventable,” said CHW Dental Director Hanna Lindskog, DDS. “Fluoride in water helps prevent cavities.”
Fluoride is a mineral found in natural water – from oceans to lakes and ponds. For the past 70 years, fluoride has been added to city tap water. Fluoride can also be found in toothpaste and mouth rinse. It helps prevent cavities in children by making tooth enamel more resistant to tooth decay. It 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.
Fluoride taken in from foods, beverages and dietary supplements make tooth enamel stronger before teeth even break through the gums, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Once teeth break through, fluoride helps to rebuild weakened tooth enamel and reverses signs of tooth decay. Fluoride taken in from foods and beverages continues to provide a topical benefit because it becomes part of your saliva, constantly bathing the teeth in tiny amounts of fluoride that also helps rebuild weakened tooth enamel.
If you have a baby or toddler, you may have questions about thumb sucking, your child’s first dental visit or how and when to clean your child’s teeth.
Teeth typically begin appearing in infants at 6 months of age.
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 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.
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.