Caring for Kids’ Teeth & Gums
Posted on Friday, February 10th, 2012
Long ago and far away, there was a radio drama called This Is Your FBI. J. Edgar Hoover called it “the finest dramatic program on the air.” Typically, its intro stressed “the current crime wave” or the excellence of the FBI – sometimes both together.
Did no one stop to ask the obvious: If these agents are our best defense against crime, why are crime rates soaring?
We might ask a similar question about National Children’s Dental Health Month, which we are again in the midst of. What started in 1941 as a one day event in Cleveland and a one week event in Akron was made national by the ADA in 1949. The next year, Congress proclaimed February 6 National Children’s Dental Health Day. Incidentally, this was the same year – 1950 – that the ADA endorsed fluoridation.
Soon, it became a week-long event, and since 1981, the “celebration” (PDF) has lasted the full month.
And how are kids’ teeth today?
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (PDF), “tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease — 5 times more common than asthma, 4 times more common than early-childhood obesity, and 20 times more common than diabetes.” Here in California (PDF), more than half of all kindergarteners have a history of tooth decay, 28% have untreated decay and 19% have extensive decay. By 3rd grade, more than 70% have had some cavities.
No, this isn’t the fault of the ADA, of course, though its years of promoting mechanical dentistry that treats the mouth in isolation from the body haven’t helped. One of the biggest culprits, actually, is dietary change – especially the increased consumption of sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates.
As we’ve written before, children’s dental health – like their physical/systemic health – begins to take shape while they’re still in the womb. Even before they start teething, diet and hygiene can set the stage for future decay (or prevention of it). As the Dental Tribune reported last summer,
US researchers have found evidence of bacteria associated with early childhood caries in the saliva of infants with no teeth. Their findings suggest that infection with bacteria like Streptococcus mutans in the oral cavity occurs earlier in the development of children than previously thought.
So how to help your child develop strong, healthy, decay-free teeth? Our tip sheet:
- Limit the amount of sugar your child regularly consumes.
- Clean infants’ gums after feeding with a moist infant washcloth or gauze pad.
- Don’t let your child sleep with a bottle. If you do, fill it with unfluoridated water.
- Once your child starts eating solid food, go easy on starches and processed carbs.
- After your child’s first tooth erupts or no later than their first birthday, take them to the dentist for their first visit.
- When your child starts to cut teeth, avoid teething gels with benzocaine, which raise the risk of methemoglobinemia (a blood disorder that keeps oxygen from efficiently getting to the body’s cells). Opt instead for teething rings, gently massaging the gums or homeopathic remedies like Body Mend.
- Once the teeth have begun to erupt, regularly clean them by brushing gently with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush lightly smeared with natural toothpaste – the kind that contains neither fluoride nor sodium lauryl sulfate. At age two or three, begin teaching your child how to brush their own teeth. Instill the habit of brushing after every meal.
- As soon as any two of your child’s teeth are touching each other, begin flossing their teeth regularly. By the age of six, they can learn how to properly floss on their own.
One other factor to keep in mind is the need to support good orofacial development for optimum health, which Dr. Verigin discusses in his article “Why Not Raise Healthy, Attractive and Intelligent Children?”. Originally published in Biosis, our free quarterly newsletter, the piece describes what our office feels is the proper focus of children’s dentistry: not treating decay or even mere prevention, but
monitoring the proper maxillo-facial, dental orthopedic growth and development. (Maxillo refers to the upper jaw and jawbone.) What we do – and don’t do – in this area is crucial. After all, it affects the child for life. Continue reading
Image by …..Tim, via Flickr