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Childhood Tooth Decay

Tooth decay knows now age limits. In fact, it is the single most common chronic childhood disease, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

The organization reports these staggering statistics:

Of the 4 million children born each year, more than half will have cavities by the time they reach second grade

Childhood tooth decay is five times more common than asthma, four times more common than early-childhood obesity, and 20 times more common than diabetes.

Some might think primary—or baby—teeth are less important than the permanent teeth that soon replace them. However, the AAPD reminds parents that they serve important functions such as fostering good nutrition by permitting proper chewing, aiding speech development, saving space for permanent teeth, and creating self-esteem through a healthy smile.

Furthermore, the AAPD says that emerging research suggests poor oral health early on can have lifelong effects including increased risk of having low-birth-weight babies, developing heart disease, or suffering a stroke as an adult.

Completely preventable dental problems that go untreated cause pain, missed school, acting out, poor concentration and other issues that impact a child’s well-being and quality of life. Parents can take simple actions to help their children establish good oral health early on — and create healthy habits to last a lifetime.

Develop dental routines from day 1

The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and other organizations agree that daily oral health routines should start from birth.

Each day, parents should gently wipe their child’s gums with a baby washcloth. When the first baby tooth appears, around six months to one year, it’s time to begin using a soft baby toothbrush with water.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends brushing teeth twice a day—typically after breakfast and before bed—starting at 12 to 24 months. A dentist should be consulted regarding fluoride toothpaste use. Daily flossing should begin when two teeth touch, which often occurs in the toddler years. And, of course, the brushing-and-flossing routine should continue throughout childhood.

Introduce the dentist early

A child’s first dental visit should occur within six month of the first tooth’s appearance and no later by his or her first birthday, according to the American Dental Association.

Starting preventive care visits to the dentist early in your child’s life not only helps catch problems before they grow more serious, they also help your child become comfortable with going to the dentist.

Regular exams also provide an opportunity to ask questions and hear your dentist’s recommendations for care. For instance, fluoride aids in growing strong teeth. If your child drinks mostly bottled water or your municipality’s water is low in fluoride content, your dentist may suggest fluoride treatments.

As permanent molars appear, usually starting around age 6 or 7, the dentist may recommend applying sealants as a means for further protecting them from decay.

Create healthy habits for healthy teeth

Good oral health extends beyond the bathroom and the dentist’s chair. Extensive exposure to sugary drinks and foods can increase decay risks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reminds parents never put a child to bed with a bottle or food; give their children bottles only during meals; teach their children to drink from a cup as soon as possible—12 to 15 months—since liquid from a cup is less likely to collect around the teeth; fill sippy cups carried around for long periods with water only; limit juice to 4 to 6 ounces a day and only at meals; and avoid sweet and sticky foods, serving them only at mealtime.

The American Dental Association also offers several tips for preventing early childhood cavities, which are often called Baby Bottle Tooth Decay. Because mothers and caregivers can pass cavity-causing bacteria to infants by giving them feeding spoons or pacifiers they’ve licked, the organization suggests mothers and caregivers improve their own oral health and not share saliva through common use.

Tooth decay does not need to plague your family. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pretty much sums up the formula for keeping it at bay, stating that a complete preventive dental program should include fluoride, twice-daily brushing, wise food choices, and regular dental visits. Follow that plan, and your child will thank you for a healthy smile—and a healthier future!

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