Did you know that dental caries (more commonly known as “cavities”) is a disease? In fact, it is the most common chronic childhood disease, affecting almost 60 percent of 5-year-olds and 80 percent of Americans by the time they are 17.
Did you also know that cavities can be contagious? Children aren’t born with the bacteria that cause cavities. They acquire them from their parents, siblings, caregivers, or other children through the sharing of utensils, toys, or when parents clean off dirty pacifiers with their own saliva.
It is estimated that 51 million school hours are lost every year due to dental related illnesses. Cavities can be painful and can make it difficult for a child to focus in school. They can also lead to poor nutrition. Some cavities can lead to a severe infection with no other treatment option but to be “wiggled out.” This can lead to speech difficulty, further nutrition problems, decreased self-esteem and future orthodontic problems.
The good news is that almost all dental cavities can be prevented. Developing good habits at an early age and scheduling regular dental visits will help children get a good start on a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and this year’s theme is “Join the Super Smile Team!” During the month of February, dental professionals all across the United States and on overseas military installations are focusing on children’s dental health by educating the children and communities on topics such as oral hygiene and fluoride, healthy dietary choices, sealant education and trauma prevention.
In honor of National Children’s Dental Health Month, providers from the Stuttgart Dental Clinic will spend the month performing dental screenings at the elementary schools, as well discussing good oral habits with students.
Following these simple tips will ensure that your child will be part of the “Super Smile Team”:
Brushing and Flossing: Children ages 0-2 years should brush twice a day with a “smear” amount of fluoride toothpaste, and children ages 2-5 years should use a “pea-size” amount. Children usually require help with brushing until 8 years old. Flossing should be incorporated into the daily oral hygiene routine at least once a day as soon as your child has two teeth that touch. If your kids hate to brush but love games, the free dental app “Toothsavers Brushing Game” may help.
Fluoride: Children benefit from both topical and ingested forms of fluoride. Examples of topical fluoride are toothpaste and mouthrinse. It is encouraged that kids of all ages use a fluoridated toothpaste and rinse with a fluoride mouthrinse once they can confidently spit it out. Examples of ingested forms of fluoride are found in the drinking water and in fluoride supplements. This type of fluoride helps primarily the developing “grown-up” teeth. The drinking water on the military installations in U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart is fluoridated, and drinking the tap water is encouraged. For those living on the economy, fluoridated drinking water can be purchased at the commissary (Culligan brand, red cap). But like all things, too much fluoride can be a bad thing — next time you are at the dentist, ask them to perform a fluoride assessment on your child.
Diet: Snacking on foods with minimal nutritional value and frequently sipping on sugary drinks leads to tooth decay. Sugary foods and drinks should be consumed with meals. Never put your child to bed with a bottle, and use sippy cups only as a transitional tool until your child can use an uncovered cup. Children 1-6 years of age should consume no more than four to six ounces of 100 percent fruit juice per day, from a cup (not a bottle or covered cup) and as part of a meal or snack. Juice that is watered down can still cause cavities if sipped all day long.
Sealants: Sealants are recommended routinely at around 7 years of age. They help prevent cavities that form on the chewing surface of teeth. Ask your dentist if your child is ready for sealants.
Mouthguards: All children who play sports should wear a mouthguard. These can be purchased at any sporting goods store, and in some cases, a custom mouthguard can be made by your dentist.
Schedule regular dental visits. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends all children have a dental exam no later than 12 months of age. This provides an opportunity to implement preventive health practices and reduce the child’s risk of preventable dental/oral disease.