Preventing Cavities in Children
Most parents are aware of the necessity of brushing and flossing to prevent tooth decay in children. However, fewer parents may be knowledgeable of the link between diet and food habits and tooth decay in pediatric patients. The following tips can help parents and children have happier dental visits and healthier teeth.
Monitor Frequency of Meals
Whenever sugary or starchy food and drink are consumed, bacteria in the mouth feed on the sugars and starches and produce acid. The acid wears away at tooth enamel. To counteract this process, the mouth produces saliva to wash away the acid. However, if meals and snacks are consumed too frequently, saliva may have a limited window of opportunity to fight off the impending acid attack. This is especially true if a child frequently consumes sugary or starchy foods. Therefore, spacing meals throughout the day and limiting consumption of sugar-laden and starchy products can help the mouth better protect itself from acid. Parents should also consider reducing their child's fruit juice consumption as juices contain sugar and acids.
Avoid Eating After Nighttime Brushing
The mouth produces less saliva during sleep. Therefore, the teeth have less protection against acid during this time. Parents are advised to not allow their children to eat food or drink beverages other than water after the child has brushed his or her teeth before bed. Children should also avoid eating or drinking directly prior to taking a nap or brush their teeth before sleeping if the child must have food or drink at that time.
Consider Water Choices
While most Americans are served by a community water source that is adequately supplemented with fluoride to help prevent cavities, bottled water often contains less of the mineral. Therefore, parents in households that mainly consume bottled water may wish to give their children filtered tap water instead or ask their dentist if their child may need a fluoride supplement. Fluoride supplements are available in tablet, varnish, and gel form.
Because the back molars are primarily used for chewing and have many dents and grooves, bacteria and food become trapped on the surface of these teeth more easily. Therefore, the molars are the most common location of cavities in children and adolescents. To protect the teeth, parents should inquire about having their children's teeth sealed with dental sealants as early as possible. Sealants are thin, plastic coatings that are painted directly onto the teeth. They do not interfere with eating and drinking.
Parents are advised to choose a knowledgeable pediatric dentist with whom they and their children are comfortable and to have an open, ongoing dialogue about their child's oral health. The child's dentist along with the office hygienist may offer more case-specific tips on caring for the individual patient's teeth. There is also a wealth of information available to parents online. The American Dental Association website, health blogs, and dental office social networking pages such as the Kool Smiles Twitter page offer a variety of information, oral health tips, and discussions on important topics in pediatric dentistry.