When you think about the most common infectious disease in children, tooth decay probably isn’t what comes to mind first. However, 51% of Ohio children have it. Tooth decay in kids is responsible for the loss of over 51 million hours of school.
The surgeon general has called tooth decay the silent epidemic – yet it is anything but ‘silent’. Studies suggest the pain from a toothache is equal to that of a broken arm or leg.
The good news is that tooth decay can be prevented. It’s important to know how it’s caused in order to avoid it. Tooth decay is the perfect storm of:
- Having teeth. Even a 12-month old with one tooth can get a cavity.
- Frequency of sugar exposures. Some state health data suggest up to 20% of children have soda in their sippy cups!
- Lack of tooth brushing and fluoride exposure, or poor tooth brushing.
So what are the best strategies to prevent tooth decay? Here are six tips.
6 Tips to Prevent Tooth Decay in Kids
- Create a tooth brushing routine. Children respond positively to the creation of routines. A child who gets in the habit of brushing will carry that forward into adolescence and beyond. Children may initially resist, but most will eventually concede to the routine with consistent reinforcement.
- Help kids ages eight years old and younger brush their teeth, but supervise until age 11. The eight year marker is approximate, but until children are able to tie their own shoes, they don’t have the skills to brush their own teeth. By helping, parents can ensure that no food is left behind, which can lead to cavities. Even after children are able to brush their own teeth, parents should be supervising to ensure children are doing a good job.
- Visit the dentist regularly. Kids’ dentist appointments are just as imperative as adult’s. We will reinforce that oral health is a critical part of overall health, as well as check for early signs of tooth decay. We’ll also give parents strategies for taking care of their children’s teeth, and issues like dental trauma and snacking.
- Brush with fluoride. Buy toothpaste with fluoride for children two years old and up. Follow the recommended amount on the packaging – and then don’t rinse! Have your children simply spit out the excess toothpaste. This will allow the fluoride to stay on their teeth, adding extra protection. Your dentist may recommend starting fluoride toothpaste for kids younger than two, but will give you specific instructions.
- Limit sugar intake. The amount of sugar that is in kids’ drinks and diets directly relates to the rise in tooth decay. Here’s a previous blog post with simple ways to reduce it. If you have questions about what nutrition your children need, their doctor is the best place to start.
- Model good behavior. One of the best things parents can do for their kids’ oral health is to take care of their own! Seeing a parent value their teeth reinforces its importance. Make it a family event – let children see how the whole family doesn’t go to bed until teeth are brushed.
Tooth decay can lead to nights of pain, poor school performance and in some children, behavioral issues. Following the above six tips can help children avoid infection, the loss of a tooth and even hospital admissions due to cavities.