An apple a day keeps the dentist away
How parents can help their kids achieve good oral health
More than two-thirds of children will have at least one cavity before their 19th birthday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. While tooth decay remains one of the most common health problems in children, it is also the most preventable, experts say.
"With proper education and regular dentist appointments, children can go their whole life without dental health problems," says LaVerne Johnson, dental assistant instructor at Everest College – Fort Worth South.
Johnson, along with the other dental assistant instructors at the Everest campuses across Texas, understands the importance of maintaining good dental health. Johnson has a few tips on what children and parents can do to protect and strengthen their smiles for years to come.
Brush and floss daily – the right way. It's not new advice, but brushing and flossing remain the two most important ingredients for a healthy smile. However, to truly be effective, they must be done correctly. Parents should model and teach their children the correct techniques to keep their teeth healthy and clean. Brushing should require only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and incorporate circular brush strokes to reach all surfaces. Often, because of their limited dexterity, children will brush too hard, which can lead to increased tooth sensitivity and receding gum lines.
Proper flossing requires wrapping the floss around the fingers and then gliding the thread between teeth in a C-shaped motion. This prevents plaque buildup between teeth and under the gum line. Make sure your child uses a new section of floss each time he or she goes between two new teeth to avoid spreading bacteria throughout the mouth.
Limit sugary snacks and drinks. The bacteria that form plaque feed on sugar and use it as a glue to stick to teeth. Be aware of the snacks you provide your children. Foods like raisins, peanut butter, taffies, toffees, soft candies and pastries stick to teeth and provide a long-term feast for bacteria. When your children do eat sweets, have them eat them after a meal. When eaten alone, sweets are more likely to stick to teeth and bond until the next brushing. Crunchy foods like apples, carrots and other raw vegetables, as well as foods high in vitamin C, like citrus fruits and broccoli are not only healthier, but also naturally clean teeth while kids eat them. Limiting consumption of sugary foods and drinks will not only help promote healthier children, but will also reduce cavities.
This advice is not just for older children. Many parents don't realize infants are also susceptible to cavities and often get "baby bottle cavities." Allowing a child to sip through the night on a baby bottle filled with fruit juice or milk can cause cavities.
Protect their teeth. Using fluoride toothpaste helps your child's teeth to be less soluble to the acids created by bacteria. However, using too much creates a condition known as mottled enamel, which appears as brown spots on teeth. The key to avoiding mottled enamel is using the right amount of fluoride. For infants, a small smear of fluoride toothpaste is sufficient, and for children younger than 7, use no more than a pea-sized amount. It is also important to know if your child is consuming fluoridated water. Check with your local water utility to find out if your water has fluoride in it as well as the amount it contains. Along with fluoride, dental sealants are an excellent way to prevent tooth decay in children. The dental sealant procedure takes only minutes, is painless, is less than half the cost of a filling and is virtually 100 percent effective at stopping decay.
Proper procedures can save teeth. Children involved in sports need proper mouth protection to prevent mouth injuries, knocked-out teeth and possible concussions. Ask your dentist about customized mouth guards. If your child knocks out a permanent tooth while playing sports, gently rinse the tooth off and place it in a cup of warm milk. If warm milk is not available, salt water or plain water will also work. Call your dentist and bring your child and the soaking tooth in immediately for re-implantation and stabilization.
Make dentist visits fun. If children have a good attitude about their dental hygiene, they will be more likely to take proper care of their teeth. Appointments should be made right at the appearance of the first tooth, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). Early visits make for a more pleasant experience for the child and help prevent future health problems. In fact, studies done by the AAPD show improper oral hygiene may increase a child's risk of eventually developing heart disease or suffering a stroke as an adult. Be positive about the dentist and explain to your children that the dentist is a friendly doctor who is helping to take care of their smiles.
"The most important thing for parents to remember is that taking care of a child's teeth is very important for his or her future health," says Johnson. "Although your children will lose their baby teeth, that doesn't mean they are not important. Healthy baby teeth influence jaw placement and future alignment of permanent teeth, which is one of the reasons parents can end up spending hundreds of dollars on future dental work and orthodontics."
With nine campuses located throughout Texas, Everest is a leader in training dental assistants throughout the state. For more information on Everest's dental assistant program, visit www.everest.edu.