Contrary to popular belief, the leading chronic infectious disease among children in the U.S. is not the flu or a cold. What is it? It actually is tooth decay. This is a surprising statistic because the simple tools for daily oral care such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and dental floss are widely available, and there have been many advances in preventative oral health care for children, such as fluoride content in water and toothpaste, fluoride treatments, and tooth sealants. What is most often lacking is education about tooth decay and its prevention, as well as available resources for assistance and care.
February has been designated National Children’s Dental Health Month to emphasize the importance of oral health in a child’s overall health and well-being. A special campaign to focus on the nationwide health threat of tooth decay among children was launched in 2014 by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). Continuing into 2015, this educational campaign provides important tools and information to help fight tooth decay to parents, dentists, and caregivers. The child-friendly theme is a “Monster-Free Mouths Movement”, making the decay the villain called the Mouth Monster. This month, Dentistry of Johns Creek, serving patients in the communities of Suwanee, Johns Creek, Alpharetta, Milton, Duluth, Cumming, Gwinnett and the metro Atlanta, Georgia area with family dentistry services, supports this cause with posts and blog information providing facts and tips for establishing a healthy oral care routine for your children, regardless what age.
Findings Underlying the “Monster Free Mouths Movement” Campaign
The fundamental impetus for the campaign was in response to the following findings disclosed in the AAPD’s “State of Little Teeth” Report:
- With the widespread availability of fast food and sugar heavy treats, the incidence of early childhood tooth decay is increasing.
- Early childhood caries, a form of decay among very young children has been growing at a particularly high rate.
- Preventative care visits are highly advocated among dentists within the first year of a child’s life, although only a small percentage of children under the age of one are ever scheduled for an initial appointment.
- The availability of dentists specializing in treating young children, particularly those covered by Medicaid, is limited in comparison to the number of dentists in practice. As a result, particular segments of the population appear to face impediments to identifying pediatric providers.
- There is an identified need to expand dental education training to yield a greater number of dentists with the knowledge, skills, and willingness to treat children, particularly both income and special needs challenged.
Key Steps to Help Share Good Oral Care Habits with Children
- Schedule a “test visit” to a dentist to familiarize your child with the smells and sounds of a dental office. Let them sit in the chair, practice going “aaww” and holding their mouth open, spray water into their mouths and then use the suction tool siphon it out, and listen to the whir of the cleaning tool.
- Use the test visit to ask the dental staff about any concerns or questions.
- You can also familiarize your child to the dentist by bringing your child with you to one of your dentist appointments, depending on the procedure. A cleaning and preventative oral exam is a good choice for your child to see firsthand what the appointment is like. A major crown restoration or similar procedure probably is not within the realm of a small child’s interest span.
- When your child reaches age 2, or when Dr. Shackelford recommends, select a toothpaste brand that contains fluoride.
- Using simple explanations and available tools such as books, online videos, coloring sheets and other resources offered as part of the Monster Free Mouth Campaign that children can understand, explain why clean mouths are good and cavities are not.
How You Can Help Prevent Tooth Decay in Your Children
Infants Younger than 8 Months.
- Breastmilk or formula is generally sufficient nutrition for a newborn or young baby.
- Water, not juice or sweetened milk, is recommended when your baby is old enough to drink something other than milk or formula, as these increase the risk of tooth decay.
- At the age of 6-8 months, a baby can usually start to use a sippy cup for drinking.
- Do not put a baby to bed with a bottle in its mouth.
- At about one year old, most babies no longer need to drink from a bottle – the attachment at that point is more generally attributed to security and habit rather than a dexterity issue.
- Wipe your baby’s gums and teeth with a soft cloth or gently brush their teeth with a soft pediatric toothbrush.
Older Babies, Children, and Teenagers
Children need a wide variety of healthy foods and snacks, and a diet low in processed sugar and high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables are best.
- Avoid giving your children sweets as treats. Try other reward options.
- If your child does eat something sweet, drinking a glass of water or eating a ‘tooth-friendly food’ afterward can reduce the amount of acid on the teeth. Tooth-friendly foods are foods such as cheese and vegetables that are low in sugar, promote chewing and stimulate your child’s saliva output.
- Acid develops and causes damage to tooth enamel the longer food and drink remains in a child’s mouth, so food grazing and sipping drinks over extended time periods has the potential to lead to decay. Limit meal times and snacking to reasonable time periods.
- Encourage your child to brush their teeth twice per day to prevent premature tooth decay.
National Children’s Dental Health Month Resources
Dentistry of Johns Creek suggests using the resources offered by the Mouth Monsters Campaign program created by the AAPD to encourage your children to actively participate in the daily preventative care of their own teeth. Kids’ enthusiasm about dental care can be stimulated by characters like “Tartar The Terrible”, “Tooth D.K.”, and “Ginger Bite Us”. Each program participant receives a Mouth Monster Defense Kit that contains a tooth brush, stickers, a daily tracker and more. The website also provides resources for parents and caregivers as to organizations and programs in your community which provide access to participating dentists and options for income restricted families.
It is important to keep your child healthy and smiling brightly. By starting annual preventive dentistry care at Dentistry of Johns Creek, your child can start off on the right path for a lifetime of good dental health.