When do you think is the earliest age that tooth decay can start? Would you be surprised to learn that the answer is… just two months!
In spite of our best efforts, throughout the world tooth decay remains the most common chronic disease of childhood. And the unfortunate truth is, it’s largely preventable. Tooth decay is caused by harmful bacteria living in the mouth. These bacteria produce acids as a byproduct of feeding on the sugar we consume. The acids attack the hard enamel surfaces of the teeth, eventually making the small holes we know as cavities.
For thousands of years, these bacteria have been thriving in the carbohydrate-rich environment of our mouths. Kids aren’t born with these germs — often, however, they are passed directly from caregiver to child. But there are things you can do to keep from passing the bacteria to your children. For example, don’t share toothbrushes; don’t put items in baby’s mouth after you have licked them or put them in yours; and, if you have untreated dental disease, try to avoid kissing the baby’s lips. (And for goodness sake, don’t pre-chew a baby’s food, no matter what any celebrity may suggest.)
One effective way to control tooth decay is by reducing the amount of sugar in the diet. Sodas and candy aren’t the only culprits — fruit juices are also high in sugar. And remember, it’s not just what your child eats or drinks that matters, but when they consume it. Given time, saliva will neutralize and wash away the acids that bacteria produce. But if kids are constantly taking in sugar, the saliva can’t keep up. So give those little teeth a break — limit sugar to mealtimes, and avoid sweet treats at other times of day.
What other steps can you take to stop tooth decay before it starts? It helps to identify kids who may be more susceptible to dental disease. Given the same diet with the same oral hygiene practices, some children are much more likely than others to develop tooth decay. If these high-risk kids receive preventive treatments — such as fluoride varnishes, help with diet modification, and other measures — early tooth decay can be successfully prevented, and even reversed in some cases.
If you’re concerned that dental treatment may be too scary for little ones, you should know that we put a great deal of effort into making office visits as stress-free as possible. We have plenty of tricks to keep youngsters happy — and distracted — while we take care of business. You can help too… by maintaining a positive outlook and setting a good example.
If you would like more information about cavity prevention for children, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Taking the Stress Out of Dentistry for Kids.”