Along with the romance of Valentine’s Day, February also brings National Children’s Dental Health Month, which is a month-long health observance promoted by the American Dental Association. It brings together dental health professionals in an effort to promote great oral health habits in children. As an orthodontist who treats both children and adults, I am constantly emphasizing the importance of maintaining a clean and healthy mouth and educating my patients on proper oral hygiene techniques.
This year’s NCDHM campaign slogan is “Water, Nature’s Drink!” I love this topic because I feel that the importance of proper hydration in children is often overlooked.
What are some of the benefits of water on children’s’ teeth?
- Water is fluoridated (so strengthens teeth)
- Fluoride is an element that has been added in small quantities to most community water supplies in the United States since the 1940’s when it was discovered to prevent tooth decay. Fluoride works by stopping or even reversing the tooth decay process. While teeth are forming under the gums in children, drinking fluoridated water helps strengthen tooth enamel, making it stronger and more resistant to cavities. This provides what is called a “systemic” benefit.
- In addition, the fluoride a child takes in from drinking water continues to provide a “topical” benefit because it becomes part of their saliva, constantly bathing the teeth and helping to rebuild weakened tooth enamel. Studies show that drinking fluoridated water prevents at least 25 percent of tooth decay in children and adults throughout the lifespan.
- Keeps mouths clean
- While any beverage can help wash down your child’s dinner, certain beverages such as juice, soda or sports drinks can leave unwanted sugar behind on his/her teeth. The cavity-causing bacteria present in kids mouths love to eat sugar and produce acid that wears away tooth enamel. Many of these drinks also have added acids (phosphoric, citrus or malic acid), which also cause trouble by eroding away enamel.
- Water, on the other hand, cleans kids mouths with every sip. It washes away leftover food and residue that cavity-causing bacteria are looking for and also dilutes the acids produced by these bacteria in the mouth. This is particularly important for children undergoing orthodontic treatment, as water can help wash away food particles and buildup on braces. Water is also the ideal beverage to drink when wearing Invisalign aligners, so sugary residue is not remaining on the teeth before putting aligners back in the mouth.
- Fights dry mouth
- Drinking water is essential for children to produce and maintain a proper amount of saliva. Saliva is your child’s mouth’s first defense against tooth decay. It begins to break down food before washing it away, it neutralizes acids, keeps mouths moist, and aids in swallowing for proper digestion.
- While many children have an excess of saliva, improper hydration with water can lead to decreased saliva and subsequently dry mouth, which also increases their risk for tooth decay. Dry mouth can additionally create a more uncomfortable situation for orthodontic patients with braces or even Invisalign.
- As mentioned, sweetened drinks that are high in sugar and calories create a perfect storm that puts children at risk for cavities. High calorie drinks can also lead to other unhealthy consequences such as weight gain. Unfortunately, in America almost 20% of children are obese. Along with the dental benefits mentioned, drinking water can also help kids keep off those extra pounds and maintain a healthy body weight.
So, the next time you pack your child a drink, do them a great favor and send them with water to offer them the best for their teeth and body–they will thank you later!