Did you know that the No.1 chronic childhood illness is tooth decay? Pediatric dental disease is five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever.
While the average adult visits the dentist two times per year, 25% of kindergartners have never been to a dentist. Many parents are not aware of the right time to bring a child into the dental office, or do not see the benefit in having dental care on “baby teeth that are going to fall out anyways.”
Each February, the American Dental Association raises awareness about the importance of pediatric oral health during National Children’s Dental Health Month. The goal is to educate the community on how seeing a dentist can improve overall health.
Visiting the dentist starting six months after the eruption of an infant’s first tooth, or by age 1, allows a child to establish a dental home. This allows the dentist and hygienist to provide early education on a variety of topics, such as proper dental hygiene, a healthy diet for optimal oral health, benefits of sealants, fluoride and information on other preventative measures. The benefits of this early counseling cannot be overstated. The first visit to the dentist can often be compared to a well-baby checkup at the pediatrician.
By age 3, most children have a complete set of 20 baby teeth. Preventative education, and early dental treatment if necessary, can significantly reduce the risk of severe decay and teeth lost due to dental abscesses. The baby molars are not expected to fall out until between the ages of 9-12. For a total of 6-9 years, these teeth play a role in helping the child eat a nutritious diet. They are very important for proper space maintenance for the developing permanent teeth and the alignment of the first permanent molar, which comes in at around age 6.
Studies have shown that early childhood decay can lead to problems with eating, speaking, self-esteem and learning. Sippy cups, baby bottles and recappable soft and sports drink bottles increase the frequency of sugars and acids in the diet by promoting a long-sipping period. When a child sips all day, the bacteria in the mouth digest the sugars, producing acids that erode the enamel of the teeth. With frequent sipping, the protective saliva in the mouth does not have the chance to remineralize, or harden, the enamel. Cavities can quickly form when the frequency of acid and sugar consumption is so high.
We now know of a sweet sugar substitute that can actually be good for your teeth. Xylitol, a sweetener that is extracted from birch bark, can be found in products such as Ice Chips hard candies, and Spry chewing gum. It is a substance that cannot be broken down by the streptococcus mutans bacteria in your mouth, and therefore cannot be used to form the acids that cause tooth decay. It also helps to stimulate salivary flow, which can have a protective effect on your teeth.
Dental sealants are another preventative measure that benefits children when the six-year permanent molars, and then 12-years molars, erupt. Sealants consist of a coating applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, where most decay occurs. When undisturbed, these sealants help to block out bacteria and acids from the deep pits and fissures of the back teeth, where toothbrush bristles often aren’t able to thoroughly clean. Sealants have been proven to be effective, yet only about one-third of children aged 6–19 years have them.
Pediatric dentists strive to educate and provide preventive treatment that will help each child obtain a lifetime of dental health. They evaluate six-year and 12-year molars for sealants, monitor orthodontic development and make referrals to local orthodontists for early treatment as necessary. Fluoride varnishes and supplements are discussed and often recommended to help make teeth as resistant to decay as possible. Every child should have the knowledge, resources and skills to take care of their teeth, so they can continue to smile, learn and grow.
Your dental office may be playing a bigger role in helping you stay healthy than anyone could have imagined a few short years ago.
For more information, contact Today’s Dental of Boxborough.