Alas, tooth decay remains the most common childhood disease in America. Over half of our kids have cavities by the second grade. This may be the most frustrating challenge in pediatric dentistry because cavities are so very preventable. In round numbers, 100% preventable. The effort required is modest, too, once the basics of prevention are understood: fluoride, cleaning, lifestyle, checkups.
Flouride is recognized by the American Dental Association as safe and effective in preventing tooth decay in children and adults. Incredibly effective, both in community water supply and when applied directly to teeth, as with toothpaste. Best when delivered both ways, because the way it works when consumed is different from the way it works when brushed on. The end result is similar, strengthening of the teeth, but when fluoride is consumed it works from inside the body and strengthens teeth that are still being formed. Huge advantage for kids.
Most Florida cities and towns fluoridate the community water supply. In Palm Beach County, the towns of Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth, and Lantana currently do not. If you’re not certain whether your municipal water supply is fluoridated, it’s worth finding out. If your tap water is not fluoridated, ask your dentist what steps you should take, if any, to provide your family with consumable fluoride.
Cleaning habits should be established as early as is practical in a child’s life, even before the first tooth erupts. Gums need cleaning, too. One of the main threats to a baby’s teeth comes from the sugars in milk and formula sticking to teeth and nourishing the bacteria that cause tooth decay and cavities. Bottles are one of the villains, especially when they linger in a baby’s mouth after the child has fallen asleep. Kids need to be taught to brush and floss properly as soon as possible. Parents should become familiar with the recommendations for frequency, technique, and teaching approaches, and work them into children’s daily routines.
It may seem a little silly to talk about childrens’ “lifestyles”, but there’s no denying that early dietary choices made by parents often become adolescent and adult habits later. It won’t be news that restricting kids’ intake of sugars, starches, and sticky food and drink is good dental hygiene. Easier said than done, right? Parents should become familiar with the many healthful and pleasing alternatives for snacking and mealtime, items that not only don’t promote decay but actually act against it.
Last, but not at all least, establish a dental “home away from home” with a first checkup as soon as the first tooth erupts and regular checkups on a schedule recommended by the child’s dentist. Checkups can detect early signs of future issues and signal prompt intervention in emerging problems.