By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Keep the teeth you're born with
Health advice
Placeholder Image
The timing of the eruption of a child’s first tooth is largely influenced by genetics, but what happens after that is most often due to the type — or lack of — dental care a child becomes accustomed to. Dental decay is one of the most common chronic infectious diseases among U.S. children and is the number 1 cause of school absenteeism in the United States.
Dental decay is an infection of the tooth and this condition is preventable even when there are risk factors that contribute to the condition. Four things are necessary for decay and cavities to form: 1) a tooth; 2) bacteria; 3) sugars or other carbohydrates; and 4) time.
When teeth come in frequent contact with soft drinks and other sugar-containing substances, the risk of decay formation increases. Low-income children have twice as much untreated decay as children in families with higher incomes. Poor nutritional and dental care habits, infrequent visits to a dentist and lack of exposure to fluorides contribute greatly to decay.
This preventable health problem begins early with 28 percent of children between the ages of 2-5 already having decay in their baby, or primary, teeth. By age 8, approximately 52 percent of children have experienced decay; and by the age of 17, dental decay affects 78 percent of children.
Even children and adults who are at low risk of dental decay can improve their risk and stay cavity-free through frequent exposure to small amounts of fluoride. This is best accomplished through drinking fluoridated water and using a fluoride toothpaste twice daily.
Children and adults at high risk may benefit from using additional fluoride products, including dietary supplements; this is especially true for those children who do not have adequate levels of fluoride in their drinking water. Mouth rinses and professionally applied gels and varnishes are other options that can prevent decay.
Parents know they need to watch what their kids eat and make them brush regularly but many appear to be unaware that letting kids sip on sugary drinks for hours or putting them to bed with a bottle of milk can be just as harmful. Tooth decay and the resulting problems of pain, dental dysfunction, being underweight, and the resulting poor appearance can greatly reduce a child’s capacity to succeed in their educational and social environment.
According to recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the first visit to the dentist should be when the first tooth comes in, usually between 6 and 12 months.
So when should the first visit be? If your child doesn’t have any high risk factors for cavities, such as sleeping with a cup or bottle or walking around all day with a cup of juice, and if his teeth seem to be developing normally, then you can probably wait until your child is older. But ask your pediatrician to check his teeth at each well-child visit and get a recommendation. Regardless of when your child first sees a dentist, don’t discount the importance of their baby teeth because they will be replaced by permanent teeth. Primary teeth serve a number of critical functions:
• Maintain good nutrition by permitting your child to chew properly.
• Are involved in speech development.
• Help the permanent teeth by saving space for them.
• Provide a healthy smile that can help children feel good about the way they look to others.
To prevent tooth decay, parents need to:
• Maintain a healthy diet for the family.
• Make sure water is readily available and encourage the use of fluoridated water. If your family buys bottled water, check the label for the fluoride content.
• Limit the number of between-meal snacks and choose nutritious foods that are low in sugar when snacks are provided.
• See that everyone brushes thoroughly twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste that has the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance.
• Assist younger children and oversee older ones as they floss or use another kind of interdental cleaner daily to remove plaque (a thin film of bacteria) from under the gums and between teeth.
• Schedule regular dental visits for checkups and cleanings.
• Keep a food diary for a week. Record every item the family eats and drinks, including candy that contains sugar. Repeat this process when routines and eating habits change.
Sign up for our e-newsletters