As a parent, you feel a responsibility for your kids’ health and safety. You make sure they are vaccinated against diseases, fasten their seat belts, and swim with a buddy. But what about their dental health?
Dental health is essential to a healthy body for a variety of reasons:
- Malnutrition: People with painful teeth are limited in what they can eat. Tooth pain can cause people to avoid exactly the foods their bodies need, like fruits and vegetables.
- Infection: Dental abscesses can spread elsewhere in the body, causing problems such as bone infections.
- Pain: Dental problems can lead to pain in the teeth, gums, jaws, and sinuses. These pains can severely limit activities.
- Social obstacles: Poor dental hygiene can lead to missing teeth, bad breath, and facial swelling, all of which can impede a child’s social interactions.
With these consequences to poor dental health in mind, here are five ways parents can improve their kids’ dental health:
See a Dentist
Visiting pediatric dentists can be one of the most essential parts of maintaining your child’s dental health. Pediatric dentists can monitor your child’s oral growth and development and identify behaviors, such as thumb sucking or tongue thrusting, before they cause long-term damage.
Pediatric dentists can also keep your kids’ teeth clean and make sure their teeth are properly fluoridated. Fluoride is an essential nutrient for developing teeth because fluoride helps calcium build teeth in a process called “mineralization.” Without fluoride, teeth are at risk of tooth decay because the mineralization process is less effective.
If your child drinks bottled water, you should be aware that it may be difficult to determine the levels of fluoride in the water. In fact, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Pediatric Dentistry, more than 65% of parents were unaware of the fluoride levels in the bottled water their children drink.
If your child feels anxiety about visiting a dentist, pediatric dentists, and their staff often have well-rehearsed ways to calm their fears. Being able to relate to kids and having the ability to explain what is happening during a dental visit are skills in every pediatric dentist‘s toolbox.
Teeth and gums benefit from many nutrients that aid in their growth and protect them from diseases. As mentioned above, fluoride helps calcium mineralize in teeth. This calcium comes from dietary sources, such as milk and other dairy products, dark green vegetables, and some nuts.
Additionally, the nutrient phosphorus is important to developing bones and teeth. Phosphorus can be found in legumes, nuts, eggs, meat, and fish.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is necessary for healthy gums. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, dark green vegetables, potatoes, and tomatoes.
Avoid Sugary Snacks
The other side of nutrition is the list of foods and drinks to avoid. When helping your child to make healthy food choices, added sugar poses many health risks including:
- Type II Diabetes
- Tooth decay
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- High blood pressure
When it comes to tooth decay, the problem with sugar is that it feeds the bacteria that live on your child’s teeth. As the bacteria consume the sugar, they excrete acid. This acid demineralizes teeth. The tooth’s molecular structure is weakened, leading to pits or cavities in the teeth. These cavities must be cleaned and filled to prevent the decay from progressing further into the tooth, further undermining its structural integrity.
Because of the health risks, sugary snacks such as candy, baked goods, soda pop, and even fruit juice should be given to children in moderation. When children do consume sugary snacks, they should brush their teeth to minimize the sugar that remains on their teeth to feed the bacteria.
Proper Cleaning Technique
There are many skills that adults take for granted, but children need to learn. Among these skills is tooth brushing and flossing. Flossing may seem simple, but there is a correct way to floss. The floss must not only pick out any food trapped between teeth, but must also clean the space between the gums and tooth root at the base of the teeth. This is a prime area for bacteria to accumulate and cause gum disease. If these bacteria and the food particles they consume are not cleaned out, the gums can swell leading to bad breath, painful gums, and bleeding.
Tooth brushing must also be taught. Brushing the teeth is primarily a matter of thoroughness. Teaching children to brush in a soft, circular motion from the gums to the crown of the tooth can help them to dislodge any trapped food particles from their teeth and remove any built-up plaque.
Plaque is a biofilm produced by the bacteria in your child’s mouth. Think of it as a slime layer that protects the bacterial colonies and helps them stick to the teeth. If plaque is not removed, the bacteria can reinforce the biofilm’s structure into a hard scale called tartar.
If your child is involved in sports, such as football, basketball, skateboarding, or other activities where tooth damage can occur, pediatric dentists recommend a mouthguard. Not only can a mouthguard protect the teeth and gums, but studies have also shown that mouthguards can reduce the risk of concussion.
As with many aspects of parenting, your child’s dental health can have a learning curve. However, teaching them nutrition and dental hygiene, taking them to pediatric dentists, and using mouth guards can be a good start.