We all know that brushing, eating a healthy diet and going to the dentist regularly help children avoid cavities, yet many parents are falling short when it comes to their children's oral hygiene.
The Centers for Disease Control says 42% of children ages 2-11 have had cavities in their baby teeth. And 21% of children ages 6-11 have had them in their permanent teeth. Here are the seven biggest mistakes dentists say parents are making with their children's teeth.
- Letting children brush alone -- Since most children don’t have the motor skills to brush effectively until they’re 8 years old, parents need to supervise brushing and check to make sure every surface of each tooth is clean. It's not that they don't want to do a good job, it's just that they don't have the physical ability to do it yet.
- Putting the baby to bed with a bottle -- It’s the easiest way to cause tooth decay, yet parents are still doing it, experts say. In fact, according to a survey by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, 85 percent of parents said it wasn’t a good idea to put their babies to bed with a bottle of milk or juice, yet 20 percent did it anyway. Whether it’s a bottle at bedtime or a sippy cup all day long, the habit keeps the sugar and bacteria levels in the mouth elevated all the time. If you never start this, you don't have to worry that it will become a routine.
- Waiting too long to make their first dental appointment -- A child's first trip to the dentist should be either when their first tooth erupts or by their first birthday and then every six months after that. Many children don't have their first appointment until they're 2 or 3 years old. By then, many kids have so many problems, they have to go under general anesthesia to treat cavities and infections.
- Offering "healthy" foods -- Bananas, raisins, and whole-grain crackers seem like healthy fare but foods that are sticky and have concentrated sugars like these will sit in the grooves of the teeth and create cavities. Instead of nixing them entirely, eat them with meals— when there’s more saliva— and always brush afterwards.
- Thinking cavities are no big deal -- You might think treating a cavity is an easy fix, but cavities can affect your child throughout his or her lifetime. For starters, healthy baby teeth are necessary to maintain space for adult teeth. They help guide the jaw so it can grow.
Plus, if a cavity becomes infected, it can affect the development of the adult teeth and if there’s an abscess, the child will likely need sedation to treat it. Cavities at an early age, especially if they’re not treated, can also lead to problems with speech articulation, poor sleep, and even low self-esteem and school performance.
- Not using fluoride -- Last year, the American Dental Association revised its recommendations and now suggests children age 2 and under use fluoride toothpaste, too. Although fluoride is controversial, experts agree that the research is clear: it’s one of the best ways to prevent cavities.
The appropriate dose, however, is key. For children 3 years old and younger, use the equivalent of a grain of rice, and for children 3 to 6 years old, a pea-sized amount is enough. Nevertheless, if you’re concerned about your child’s exposure to fluoride in the water and toothpaste, talk to your dentist.
- Loading up on sports drinks -- A common cause of tooth decay in older kids is sipping on sports drinks and soda at lunch, at games and at home. By bathing their teeth in acid all day, there’s no opportunity for the PH to re-balance. If you can’t persuade your children to completely nix it from their diet, encourage them to limit the amount, then be sure to brush afterwards.
Paying more attention to their children's oral health and making slight modification to their routines is how parents can help their kids have healthy teeth and develop good habits that will last them a lifetime.