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Reduce Your Kids' Risk for Tooth Decay

  • Category: General Health
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Matt Gougler

While the star of February is Valentine's Day and its smitten sweethearts, parents are well advised to also focus on the proverbial sweet tooth—particularly when it comes to their children. That's because February is National Children's Dental Health Month, and ATRIO Health Plans is taking this opportunity to help moms and dads make sure that sugary snacks, as well as lax dental hygiene—aren't putting their kids at risk for tooth decay.

Good dental health should be a central component of children's lives. Youngsters who don't receive proper dental care can develop into adults with poor dental health. Poor dental health can lead to heart attacks, strokes, premature or low-weight babies, diabetes complications, and other serious medical issues.

Good Dental Health from the Start

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay is the most common, chronic childhood disease; more than one-quarter of children have tooth decay in baby teeth before starting kindergarten, and—by age 19—68 percent have tooth decay in permanent teeth. To avoid this outcome, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) encourages parents to bring their offspring to a pediatric dentist by the time their baby's first tooth appears.

For parents of infants, the AAPD also makes the following recommendations:

  • Clean your infant's mouth and gums regularly with a soft, infant toothbrush or a cloth and water.
  • Wean babies from their bottle by 12 to 14 months of age.
  • Brush baby teeth at least once a day; use a child-sized toothbrush and a small amount of fluoridated toothpaste.

As Your Child Grows

As children get older, the American Dental Association (ADA) advises parents to turn their attention to what their offspring are sipping and snacking on, as this will affect not only their general health, but their oral health as well. The ADA cautions that a steady diet high in sugar can cause significant damage to one's teeth. Specifically, sugar-coated teeth serve as a breeding ground for bacteria; bacteria, in turn, produces acid—and acid can eat away tooth enamel.

To reduce the risks of childhood tooth decay, the ADA makes these suggestions:

  • Limit between-meal snacks as much as possible. If a snack is warranted, make a selection that is low in fat, sugar, and starch.
  • Allow children to chew only sugarless gum. Chewing sugarless gum after eating can have a positive impact because it increases saliva production, which helps rinse away food and decay-producing acid.
  • Encourage youngsters to opt for water or low-fat milk, rather than soft drinks.
  • Make sure that children brush their teeth at least twice a day and floss nightly.
  • Schedule biannual dental checkups for children and adolescents.

An Added Precaution

Good dental health also extends to protecting youngsters' teeth when they're playing sports, and even when they're engaged in recreational activities such as rollerblading or snowboarding.

In fact, according to the ADA, each year thousands of children and teens injure their teeth while playing football, basketball, baseball, and hockey, as well as while engaging in a host of non-team activities such as biking or skateboarding.

Consequently, the ADA recommends that a mouth guard be worn for any athletic or recreational activity that poses a risk of injury to the mouth. The most-effective mouth guards, notes the ADA, are resilient, tear-resistant and comfortable. Additionally, mouth guards should be easy to clean, and not restrict speech or breathing.

To ensure a proper fit, the ADA suggests bringing the child—along with his or her mouth guard—to the dentist. If necessary, the dentist can custom-make a mouth guard to fit the youngster's specific needs.

Every child deserves a bright, healthy smile—this month—and every month.