Each February, the American Dental Association (ADA) sponsors National Children’s Dental Health Month to raise awareness about the importance of good oral health. If you have a baby or toddler, you probably have questions about thumb sucking, your child’s first dental visit, how and when to brush your child’s teeth, learn about dental sealants or what exactly can cause harm to your child’s teeth and naturally, many more.
As soon as teeth appear in the mouth, decay can happen. So let’s talk about what children eat and drink and when they eat and drink, because that too is important as a risk factor for early childhood tooth decay. Frequent and prolonged exposure of baby’s teeth to sugary liquids such as fruit juice, milk or formula is another risk factor for tooth decay. Have you ever heard of baby bottle tooth decay? It can happen over time if a baby is put to bed with a bottle. Training or ‘sippy’ cups are similar to a baby bottle because a baby is still able to suck from the cup. This leads to small amounts of sugar left on the teeth which can grow bacteria on or around the teeth. So, it is important to have your child drinking from a sippy cup only for a limited time.
Eating/drinking habits may affect not only a child’s general health but also their oral/dental health. That goes for youth and adults too. We are consuming foods and drinks high in sugar and starches more often and in larger portions than ever before. As for youth, teens and adults, it’s clear that ―”junk” foods and drinks gradually have replaced nutritious beverages and foods for many of us. A steady diet of sugary foods and drinks can ruin our teeth, especially among those who snack throughout the day. Habitually “grazing” on foods with minimal nutritional value, and frequently sipping on sugary drinks are also common activities may contribute to the risk of tooth decay.
When sugar is consumed over and over again in large, often hidden amounts, the harmful effect on teeth can be dramatic. Sugar on teeth provides food for bacteria, which produce acid. The acid in turn can eat away the enamel on teeth. Almost all foods have some type of sugar that cannot and should not be eliminated from our diets. Many of these foods contain important nutrients. However, there is a risk for tooth decay from foods high in sugars and starches. So it is important to talk to your dentist about good dental health so that you can take charge and reduce your children’s risk of tooth decay. Here are a few tips:
— Infants should finish their naptime or bedtime bottle before going to bed
— After using a sippy cup, encourage your child to drink from an actual cup by the time they turn one.
— When your baby’s teeth start to come in, brush their teeth with a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste. For infants, use a small, soft, wet cloth on your finger to wipe out their mouth and gums
— Sugary foods and drinks should be consumed with meals. Saliva production increases during meals and helps neutralize acid production and rinse food particles from the mouth.
— Limit between-meal snacks. If kids crave a snack, offer them nutritious foods.
— If your kids chew gum, make it sugarless – Chewing sugarless gum after eating can increase saliva flow and help wash out food and decay-producing acid.
— Monitor beverage consumption – Instead of soft drinks all day, children should also choose water and low-fat milk.
— Help your children develop good brushing and flossing habits.
— Schedule regular dental visits and well-baby checkups for his/her teeth.
“Children’s teeth are meant to last a lifetime, and a healthy smile is important to a child’s self-esteem. With proper care, a balanced diet and regular dental visits, their teeth can remain healthy and strong,” stated Johnnie Brigman, RDH with the NC Oral Health Section/Scotland County. “Developing good habits at an early age and scheduling regular dental visits helps children get a good start on a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.”
For more information on healthy snacks, good nutrition habits, or resources for children’s dental health, please contact Kathie Cox, Health Educator II/PIO, Scotland County Health Department at 910/277-2470, Ext. 4478. Or visit online https://toothtalk.org/ or the American Dental Association website.
For our teachers, the ADA has free online resources that can help you with ideas for the classroom and coloring and activity sheets that can be used as handouts. For adults influencing the oral health of young children and their parents, childcare providers, dental providers, WIC staff and other community partners, there are opportunities for an in-person or virtual educational program “Calling All Smile Crusaders!” that provides important information and resources.
To discuss and/or schedule a training, contact Johnnie Brigman, MSHA, BSDH, RDH, CDA, Public Health Dental Hygienist for Region 6, at 919-353-4173.
Kathie Cox is a health educator II/PIO and healthy communities coordinator for Scotland County Health Department.