Look Mom … No Cavities!
Wouldn’t it be great if our children could grow up into adulthood with no cavities?
In this article, we want to provide you with the knowledge of preventing cavities in your children’s mouths. Cavities are caused by plaque, which is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria and sugars that will constantly form on their teeth. Let’s talk about how to prevent these sugar-eating bacteria, AKA Sugar Bugs, from attacking your children’s teeth and causing cavities.
What is a cavity and how does it form?
For a cavity to form, there must be three things present: a tooth, bacteria and sugar. If we were to take away even just one of these three things, a cavity could not form.
A cavity forms on a tooth when bacteria eat sugary substances and emit acid. This acid breaks down the tooth structure, forming a yellowish, brownish sticky hole in the tooth. Left untreated, the bacteria will break down the tooth all the way into the nerve of the tooth, which can cause a painful infection. Ouch!
How can we prevent cavities in our children’s mouths?
There are three main factors in cavity prevention:
- A healthy diet with limited sugar intake
- Good oral hygiene practices performed by the parents
- Regular dental checkups by a pediatric dentist
Let’s break down all three factors in detail.
A healthy diet is paramount to a healthy mouth. Limiting foods that are high in sugar content is key. Limiting the frequency of how often we eat sugary foods is equally important.
Foods that are high in sugar content include things like candy, soda, cakes and cookies. There are also foods that we don’t think of as being high in sugar, but break down into sugar, such as potato or corn chips, crackers, granola bars and dried fruits. Any time a food is eaten that is high in sugar or breaks down into a sugar, the pH in the mouth drops, making it more acidic. This drop in pH lasts for 30 minutes. A drop in pH is a more acidic environment and this high acid environment is ideal for forming cavities. So, with every sip of coke or bite of a cracker, our mouth is under attack for the next 30 minutes.
Conversely, foods that are high in protein or low in sugar, do not promote cavity formation. Examples of snacks that are not harmful to teeth include cold cuts, nuts, cheeses and veggies. We often recommend beef jerky as a convenient snack to have on the go.
We will assume that most children will consume some form of sugary foods. This sugar feeds the bacteria that causes plaque. It is important to brush the sugary foods, plaque and bacteria off our teeth.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends parents help their children with oral hygiene. As soon as the first tooth comes in, it must be brushed daily.
Here are the hygiene recommendations for children’s teeth:
- Brush twice daily
- Floss once daily
We recommend that parents help their children to brush and floss until they are 8 or 9 years old. When children are very young, parents will perform all parts of brushing and flossing. As children get older and desire more independence, parents can take a team approach with oral hygiene. For example, the child brushes first and the parent finishes. Or, the child can brush in the morning and the parent brushes at night. Finally, as the child approaches age 8 or 9, they can be given the responsibility to brush and floss on their own. We still recommend parents check their kids’ teeth at home to monitor their children’s oral hygiene.
Flossing is one of those skills that can be challenging. With practice, it gets easier. Flossing removes the food and bacteria that gets lodged in-between the teeth with daily eating and drinking that the toothbrush cannot reach. By removing the debris from in-between the teeth, we decrease the chance of cavities forming. In addition to preventing cavities from forming, flossing also maintains the health of the gums surrounding the teeth. By flossing daily, we can remove the bacterial plaque that causes cavities.
It is recommended to establish a Dental Home for your child by his or her first birthday. The Dental Home is a continuous relationship between the patient and the pediatric dentist. This ongoing relationship focuses on maintaining good oral health for your child through education and prevention. By seeing a pediatric dentist on a regular basis, your child will receive comprehensive and continuous care. With regular dental checkups, not only can cavities be treated if needed but cavities can be prevented! Your pediatric dentist will provide a comprehensive plan for your child including an individualized prevention plan, education and the tools you as a parent can utilize at home to stay cavity free. Furthermore, your pediatric dentist will monitor your child’s growth and development and habits, such as pacifier use and thumb sucking; when referrals to other dental specialists are appropriate; and treat dental injuries that can often occur in the pediatric patient. This approach is family-centered, coordinated and inclusive of all aspects of oral health care for your little one.