February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and this year’s slogan from the American Dental Association is “Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste and clean between your teeth for a healthy smile.” While this may seem like a common sense statement, many underestimate the importance of a child’s oral hygiene. As an orthodontist, having completed four years of dental school prior to my specialty training, oral hygiene is paramount in my practice and something I am continuously educating my patients about.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that a child go to the dentist by age one or within six months after the first tooth erupts. Why so early? As soon as a baby has teeth, he or she can get cavities. Preventive dental checkups can help identify early signs of tooth decay before they become a problem and also ensure the implementation of proper oral hygiene techniques. Early trips to the dentist also allow a child to get accustomed to dental visits, which should occur twice a year.
When is the right time for a child to see an orthodontist? The American Association of Orthodontists recommends a checkup with an orthodontic specialist no later than age 7. An early evaluation with an orthodontist allows the identification of potential problems that may require monitoring, or in other cases early treatment. Some examples of situations requiring early treatment are crossbites, oral habits, severe overbite, or severe underbite.
In addition to regular dental visits, proper home oral hygiene is crucial to maintaining a child’s healthy mouth. As a mother of two young children myself, I know how hectic our lives can become and how simple tasks like teeth brushing can fall by the wayside. Hence I recommend to make oral hygiene practices part of a daily routine. Just as we have breakfast and get dressed every morning, tooth brushing should a part of the morning regimen, as well as before bed along with flossing. As a general rule, brushing should be for two minutes, two times daily. Check out the website 2min2x.org for more great information.
Here are some dietary tips to reduce your child’s risk of tooth decay:
- Limit sugary and starchy foods, especially candy and sweets.
- Limit between-meal snacks. If kids crave a snack offer them something nutritious, such as fruit.
- Eliminate sugary, non-nutritional drinks such as sodas, Gatorade, and even juices. Healthy beverage choices like water or low-fat milk can reduce the opportunity for tooth decay.
- If your kids chew gum, opt for sugarless. Chewing sugarless gum after eating can increase saliva flow and help wash out food and decay-producing acid.
- Avoid overly processed foods and instead eat a balanced diet including plenty of whole foods including fruits, vegetables and grains.
Oral hygiene is particularly important during orthodontic treatment. Teeth with braces should be brushed minimally three times daily, and I always recommend fluoridated toothpaste and water. A fluoride rinse before bed for orthodontic patients also helps prevent permanent stains or white spots on the teeth that can result from poor oral hygiene.
The third component allowing for a child’s sparking smile is their diet. What children eat and when they eat it affects not only their general health but also their oral health. Alarmingly, Americans are consuming foods and drinks high in sugar and starches more often and in larger portions than ever before. It’s clear that junk foods and drinks with minimal nutritional value gradually have replaced nutritious foods and beverages for many people. A steady diet of sugary foods and drinks can ruin a child’s teeth, especially among those who graze or snack throughout the day. When sugar is consumed over and over again in large, often hidden amounts, the harmful effect on teeth can be dramatic. Sugar on teeth provides food for bacteria, which produce acid. The acid in turn can eat away the enamel on teeth.
In summary, the health of your child’s teeth and gums is contingent upon regular dental visits, proper and consistent brushing and flossing, and a healthy diet. Above all we must make healthy life choices in general and educate our children to do the same. Their teeth (and bodies) will thank you!
Dr. Rothman is the owner and orthodontist at Pinecrest Orthodontics, located in the Dixie Belle Shops at 12197 S. Dixie Highway in Pinecrest, FL. PH: 305.423.4130 pinecrestortho.com. Please email Dr. Rothman with your orthodontic questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.