Children’s Dental Care Tips & All You Need To Know About Kids Teeth
Learn why tooth decay is the new school bully among American kids and what you can do to prevent it.
How American kids measure up when it comes to dental care around the world
The U.S. healthcare system (if you want to call it a system) is continuously in the news and rightly so. The various changes it has gone through and all the confusion surrounding those changes has exhausted Americans. With all the talk about health care, it’s easy to overlook another serious health topic – dental care.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one-quarter of seniors ages 65 and over have lost their teeth due to tooth decay, and the issue is just as serious for kids – especially for their future health. About one-third of children in the U.S. have untreated cavities, and if you’ve read any oral health reports lately, you know that bad dental care is related to serious health concerns such as heart disease, liver damage, among others.
And that’s not all. Approximately 8,000 people in the U.S. die of oral or pharyngeal cancers each year – and we’re not just talking seniors. Kids too are at risk, especially those in low-income brackets who are likely to have tooth decay.
After reviewing these statistics, it should come as no surprise that dental care in the U.S. is not a common practice. The Dental Humanitarian Outreach Program (DHOP) 2011-2012 study, published in the Dental Tribune in 2013, reports that Americans are in a small crisis when it comes to oral health. To get a clearer picture of U.S. pros and cons when compared to other countries around the world, DHOP analyzed oral health data not only in the U.S. but Kenya and Colombia as well.
All three countries were in the range of severe to moderate, with Kenya being the worst. But, it’s not the range that is the most concerning – it’s that the U.S. is comparative to these third-world countries! And, why you ask? Well, this issue is because there are mainly 125 million Americans without dental insurance resulting in the staggering numbers presented.
When should dental care start for children?
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends children have their first dentist visit by age 1, or within six months of the first tooth. Baby teeth begin showing up around six months. However, sadly, most American children, as stated in a 2009 survey of American children’s oral health conducted by Morpace, Inc., don’t get their first visit until about age 2.
Interestingly, the study revealed that 62% did not follow the guideline because the parents and caregivers felt the child was too young or they did not have enough teeth. Whereas, lack of insurance was mentioned by 12% of parents and caregivers.
Most people think primary teeth, otherwise known as baby teeth, fall out eventually so what’s the big deal? However, baby teeth are essential. Here are a few reasons why:
- They help with proper chewing habits
- They play a significant role in speech development
- They save space for when their permanent teeth arrive
- They promote confidence in children by providing a healthy smile.
The importance of mouth health for premature babies and those with special needs
The March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card reveals that premature birth rates have increased for the first time in 8 years here in the U.S. to 9.6% (out of over 3-million births per year), earning American’s a “C” rating. Aside from their babies being prematurely born, parents and caregivers have a lot on their minds and worry about many things when it comes to development – one being their child’s dental health.
Premature infants do show an increased risk of developing dental problems. These include:
- Delayed tooth eruption
- Enamel hypoplasia (lack of white coating covering the teeth)
- Tooth discoloration
- Palatal groove (hard palate)
- Increased need for braces
Sadly, preemies aren’t the only ones who suffer oral issues. Special needs kids are up against a host of problems as well when it comes to their teeth. Not only do these children face developmental challenges, but they may also suffer oral trauma, oral infections and so on. A few of those include:
- Delayed, accelerated or inconsistent tooth eruption
- Malocclusion (a poor fit of the upper and lower teeth)
- Pits, lines or discoloration
- Tooth anomalies (variations in size, shape, etc.)
Bruxism (habitual grinding of teeth)
Cavities (tooth decay)
Early periodontal (gum) disease
Children who fall in either of these categories require early dental care and frequent check-ups. Parents and caregivers should be aware of the range of practitioners within the oral care field and how they can help. They should also seek out those dental professionals with experience and training in the treatment of preemies and special needs children. Below is a list of experts, what they can provide, and their limitations.
Dentists can provide cleanings, fillings, and small surgical procedures as well as fluoride and sealant treatments.
Orthodontists help with dental displacements and treat malocclusions. Whereas periodontists treat bacterial plaque, gingivitis, and other related infections.
Cosmetic dentists improve the outward appearance of a person’s smile.
Dieticians also work to develop special nutritional diets, feeding instructions and appropriate food textures for those suffering from oral issues.
Speech and language pathologists work with children to develop their facial muscle control and coordination. This attention allows them the ability to swallow without choking, inhaling and aspirating food and liquids.
What to do when baby teeth are ready to come out
Baby teeth typically begin showing up around age 6 or 7. And, as we’ve discussed, baby teeth are vital for proper chewing habits, speech skills, etc. Because of their important role in a healthy mouth, you should avoid forcing the teeth out or pulling them. If you can, it’s best to let them fall out naturally.
Here are a few tips on how best to make the transition from baby teeth to adult teeth.
- Encourage your child to wiggle the tooth
- Use a clean paper towel or cloth to anchor the tooth once it’s very loose (or hanging). In this instance, it may be time to help the tooth along by pulling it.
- Remove with a twist – if you do need to pull your child’s tooth, use a twisting motion and with clean hands pull the tooth firmly and quickly.
Want to learn more? Check out this cool chart that shows the schedule of when teeth fall out and come in.
Healthy nutrition for kids and their teeth
By the end of the toddler phase, your children are in the habit of brushing their teeth and flossing on a regular basis (hopefully). Practice makes perfect, but it’s also just as important to teach them proper snacking habits and nutrition. Here is a guide of good choices when it comes to meals and snacking – you might just pick up a few tips for yourself too!
- Crunchy, high fiber foods: Apples, celery, carrots
- Dairy: Milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Leafy greens and vegetables: Broccoli, kale, and spinach
- Nuts and seeds: Walnuts, cashews, pecans, etc.
Foods and drinks to avoid:
- High starchy foods: white bread, potatoes, and chips
- Sugary junk food: candy, cakes, and pies
- Juice and Soda
Liquids to drink for healthy mouths
What your child drinks is also significant enough to pay attention too. If you’re thinking juice – think again. Did you know, it’s lower in fiber, and your body absorbs fewer nutrients from it than from eating whole fruits. Too much can also cause diarrhea, tooth decay and can even lead to obesity. Most juices are also very high in sugar – and we all know the less sugar, the better.
For example, a small glass of apple juice has zero fiber and 13 grams of sugar. Now, compare that to eating a whole apple which contains about 3 grams of fiber and 10 grams of sugar. So, as a healthier option serve the whole apple to your kid along with a tall glass of water.
However, there are some exceptions and juice is better than soda. If your child isn’t the best eater of fresh fruits and veggies, it can be a good alternative to ensure they are getting their total dietary servings of these healthful foods each day. If you do serve juice to your kids, make sure its pasteurized and labeled as 100%.
The American Academy of Pediatrics gives the following recommendations.
- Babies younger than 12 months: no juice.
- Ages 1 – 3: no more than 4 oz. a day
- Ages 4 – 6: no more than 6 oz. a day
- Ages 7 and older: no more than 8 oz. a day
Also, serve the juice in a cup, rather than a sippy cup or juice box. Putting this into practice will help your kids avoid sipping on it all day and taking it with them wherever they go. Diluting their juice is also a good option – fill the cup with half water and then juice.
Drinks that are beneficial for kids to consume include:
- The ultimate drink – water!
- For a sweet treat – chocolate milk
- Give it a shot – unsweetened iced green tea
Watch this short video and learn the importance of water for kids.
Good dental care habits for children to practice
Yes, brushing your teeth and flossing are best practices when it comes to proper oral hygiene, but there are other methods of keeping your teeth and gums healthy and preventing you and your family from visiting the dentist more than twice a year. Here is a list of healthy habits:
- Rinse your mouth after each meal with water or mouthwash
- Try not to snack between meals (unless it’s fresh veggies or fruits) – if you do, make it quick, don’t drag it on
- Avoid sticky foods after meals
- Change up your toothbrush every three months or after you’ve been sick
- Eat a well-balanced diet of complex carbohydrates, fiber and calcium rich foods and foods packed with plenty of protein
Some harmful habits to avoid include:
- Snacking all day long
- Drinking sugary tea, coffee
- Sipping carbonated drinks like soda
- Repeated binge eating
- Biting on ice or other hard objects
The most common oral disease found in children
Cavities are the most common chronic condition in children, says Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, in her report titled Oral Health: The Silent Epidemic. Tooth decay is about five times as common as asthma and seven times as common as hay fever. Cavities lead to tooth loss, and sadly, it’s not just an issue among seniors, but children as well.
Several other habits that cause more severe problems in the mouth, later on, that should be avoided, include:
- Usage of baby bottle longer than recommended – sugars in drinks lingering in the mouth cause tooth decay
- Thumb sucking – causes an overbite and trouble developing proper speech
- Tongue thrusting – creates pressure against the front teeth pushing them out of alignment
- Lip sucking – involves repeatedly holding the lower lip beneath the upper front teeth which can cause the same types of issues as seen in children who thumb suck
Most of us are taught early on that regular brushing and flossing are imperative to keeping our teeth clean and white. However, these two practices are the minimum when it comes to preventing cavities. Nutrition and eating habits also play a role in the health of our mouths.
Take a look at this video on the proper way children should be brushing their teeth:
Eating fresh fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water and avoiding crunching on hard foods and ice is also important to keep in mind when taking care of teeth. Also, limited snack times.
Unfortunately, most of this information gets communicated through a pediatric dentist, and if you don’t have insurance or the budget for regular check-ups, you may never discover these tips and tricks for preventing tooth decay which is why it makes routine visits to important.
Pediatric oral diseases
Now that we’ve talked about the most common oral disease kids are facing, let’s take a look at a few other of the conditions that exist in the mouth. Keep in mind, if you notice your child wincing when they eat or drink something, if they’re complaining about something hurting in their mouth or if they have a decreased appetite or thirst be sure and consult your pediatric dentist and schedule an appointment.
- Chronic gingivitis – causes gums tissue to swell, turn red and quickly bleed.
- Aggressive periodontitis – found mostly in teenagers and young adults, this mainly affects the first molars and incisors – causing severe loss of the thickened ridge of bone that holds the tooth sockets
- Generalized aggressive periodontitis – this can begin around puberty causing inflammation of gums and massive accumulation of plaque and calculus, leading to tooth loss
Signs of Periodontal Disease:
- When children (infant up to 8 years old) consume too much fluoride from any source over extended periods of time which creates white lines or spots on the teeth
- Grinding and clenching of your teeth causing tight jaw muscles, mouth swelling, headache and damaged or broken teeth
- Tooth enamel wearing caused by too much acidic exposure in certain foods and drinks (mostly fruit juices) and is most common in children ages 5 to 17 years old
Stomatitis (canker sores and cold sores):
- An inflamed and sore mouth inside the cheeks, gums, tongue, lips, etc. caused by infections, nutritional deficiencies, allergic reactions, etc.
Mouth trauma and injury in children
Dental trauma occurs mostly in younger children (infant to six years old) and is more frequent in males versus females. Most of these traumas happen at the playground, while horsing around, or during various sports. When it comes to sports, it’s a good idea to remember to use a mouth guard for protection. In other instances, it is recommended for parents to be aware and to pay attention on the playground (or at home). Here is a list of prevalent mouth traumas:
- Tooth or root fractures
- Tooth knocked loose or knocked out
- Tooth jammed into socket
- Fracture of socket wall or ridge of bone containing the tooth sockets
- Fracture of upper or lower jaw
- Soft Tissue laceration
For more information, take a look at the Dental Trauma Guidelines booklet put together by the International Association of Dental Traumatology.
It makes sense that as soon as you have a tooth – it’s time to see a dentist! The Academy of Pediatric Dentistry says they want to see kids as early as possible, so the sooner, the better. By following this guideline, it allows dentists to educate parents early on and help them learn how to care for their children’s teeth way before they can do it themselves. Your pediatric dentist should be giving you a wealth of information such as what to feed your kids, when, and best practices for brushing and flossing. If you are not getting this type of care, strike up a conversation about these topics, or seek out a new dentist.
We hope you find this information helpful and have gained a better understanding of why dental care for children should start sooner rather than later.