Tooth decay is the number one chronic childhood disease. In fact, cavities are five times more common than asthma. While you may think that your child is getting cavities because he or she isn’t brushing or flossing well, that’s only partially true.
“Dental caries is tooth decay that is caused by the spread of specific germs,” says Alpharetta pediatric dentist Dr. Nanna Ariaban.
“It is estimated that as many as 4 million preschools suffer from childhood dental caries. Children tend to have diets higher in sugars and sense tooth decay begins by a bacteria that feeds on sugar, this isn’t a surprise that so many children suffer from decay.”
Decay can set in with bacteria called mutans streptococcus begin to attack the sugar that remain in the mouth after eating and drinking. Acid is then produced, and the acid works to eat away the teeth, leading to decay and cavities. The acid can also form plaque, which over time can erode the enamel.
One place this bacteria comes from is the mother. Think twice before you share a spoon or straw with your child – you could be infected his or her tiny mouth with these bacteria. And if you have cavities yourself, you are more likely to have the bacteria living in your mouth.
Learn More: How to Stop Cavities from Spreading to Your Kid
“Try to avoid sharing utensils with your child, and never let him or her use your toothbrush,” says Dr. Nanna. “Once your child has his or her first cavity, the mouth will be more prone to additional cavities because the bacteria will have colonized. And if you have a history of tooth decay, it’s crucial to pay extra close attention to your child’s teeth.”
Parents can pass on high levels of decay causing bacteria. In fact, 80 percent of childhood cavities occur in just 25 percent of children. So what steps can you take to help your child avoid cavities?
Brush and floss your children’s teeth daily. Brush twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste and soft bristled brush, and floss at least once a day. Fluoride toothpaste can be used between the ages of two and three, or when your child is capable of spitting out excess toothpaste.
Just say no to juices, sports drinks and sodas. Encourage your children to drink water. Try limiting juice and other sugary beverages to mealtimes, when there will be plenty of saliva to wash away the sugars.
Never let your child go to bed with a bottle, and always wipe your baby’s mouth after breastfeeding or bottlefeeding.
Learn More: Can Bottle Feeding Lead to Tooth Decay?
Schedule regular check-ups for your children. Your child should see the dentist by his first birthday, or after the first tooth appears, and then every 6 months after.
Learn More: Children Should See the Dentist by 1 Year Old
Monitor your child’s fluoride intake. The right amount of fluoride is necessary to ensure strong, healthy teeth. Too much or too little can be damaging. If you have questions about the amount of fluoride that is right for your child, ask Dr. Nanna.
Set a good example. If your children see you making your smile a priority, they will follow your lead. So be a model of oral health to your children.
A healthy smile leads to a healthy life. Tooth decay and other oral diseases, such as gum disease, are linked to heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Help your children care for their teeth today and you can help them stay healthy in the future.
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