Despite the fact that dental caries – tooth decay – is entirely preventable, nearly 20 percent of children suffer from potentially disfiguring complications that arise from untreated forms of the disease.
According to recent studies, tooth decay is on the rise for the first time in the U.S. in over 40 years. While once believed part of a typical childhood, cavities became fairly uncommon over the last couple of decades due to the development of better preventative care for kids, improved nutrition, dental sealants and the availability of fluoride in public water supplies and toothpaste. However, despite the progress recently made against dental caries, it now seems that many parents have started to let their guard down regarding tooth decay.
Dangers of Decay
Tooth decay and cavities are caused by harmful bacteria that thrives in the mouths of humans. Under the right conditions, these types of bacteria produce excessive amounts of acid that weakens that hard outer mineral layer of teeth called enamel. Over time, the decay leads to the development of tiny holes in enamel that allow bacteria to enter the delicate interior of a tooth, which can cause pain, the spread of infection and the destruction of gum tissue.
The key to preventing the development of tooth decay is to suppress the bacteria that destroys enamel, while also promoting a healthy oral environment that encourages enamel to remain durable and strong.
One of the best ways parents can help to prevent decay is to start a brushing habit early on with their kids – typically by the time they turn one. To start, use only a tiny dab of toothpaste that contains fluoride. Since young children haven’t mastered their swallowing reflex, use just enough toothpaste to provide fluoride protection for developing teeth, but not enough to swallow.
While you need to help your child brush, keep in mind that you also need to make brushing an enjoyable experience. You want to make brushing a lifetime habit that your child doesn’t try to avoid. If your child feels that brushing is a traumatic or painful experience, you might end up having to fight with your child every night just to get him or her to brush. This probably means that when your child does brush, it won’t be for long or very thoroughly. Your child needs to brush for at least two minutes every time he or she picks up a toothbrush.
The bacteria that causes decay also thrives off the sugar we eat. To reduce the amount of decay your child’s teeth suffer, you need to limit the amount of sugary foods and drinks he enjoys throughout the day. When you do provide a child a sweet treat, try to make it part of a larger meal, such as lunch or dinner. When eaten as part of a larger meal, sugars tend to be washed away from the mouth by the excess saliva the body produces. When eaten alone as a snack, the mouth produces very little excess saliva, which allows sugars to linger in the mouth and provide bacteria plenty of fuel.
Just by limiting the amount of sugar your child consumes and how often and long she brushes, you can greatly reduce the risk of decay and help to ensure a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.