According to The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 42% of children age 2-5 experience cavities in their primary teeth. So how do we prevent cavities in kids?
By starting healthy dental habits from a young age (before their first birthday), you can help your children avoid these pesky cavities. Taking preventative steps against tooth decay is important as soon as your child gets their first tooth, which is usually around 6 months. Consistent and proactive infant oral hygiene can make all the difference!
Dental habits are something that kids often learn from their parents based on how well they see their parents take care of their own teeth, and how strongly they encourage their children to do the same. So remember how you take care of your teeth will influence how your children take care of their teeth.
Here are our top 10 tips for preventing cavities and tooth decay in kids. These tips will ensure your little one has great dental health and a foundation for lifelong good oral health. Remember: primary teeth are important! Don’t wait for your child’s permanent teeth to come in before you start worrying about tooth decay!
1. Avoid sugary snacks.
Sugary snacks are the main culprit when it comes to cavities. You may already be avoiding candy and cookies. However, many unlikely foods contain excessive amounts of sugars!
Seemingly healthy snacks like fruit juice, smoothies, yogurt, and pureed fruit squeeze packs have more sugar than we realize. Check the back of the packaging next time you are grocery shopping to see the sugar content. Even products that are advertised as “no sugar added” may have high sugar content (or added artificial sweeteners). Also remember that cough drops, mints, and gum contain sugar that can contribute to the bacterial buildup.
Remember that sugar is a magnet for bad bacteria. The bad bacteria feed on the sugar you eat. They grow and form dental plaque, which is a sticky, colorless film that forms on the surface of the teeth. If the plaque is not washed away (either by saliva or brushing), your mouth becomes more acidic. It is in this acidic environment that cavities start to form.
If your child does enjoy a sugary treat, encourage them to brush their teeth afterward to prevent plaque and bacteria build-up.
2. Avoid sticky foods.
What comes to mind when we say sticky foods? Caramel. Peanut butter. Starburst candy. However, we often forget the less common sticky foods like dried fruit, chewy granola bars, and beef jerky. Sticky foods include anything like requires your jaw to work hard.
Sticky foods are problematic because they stay on your teeth longer. This happens because the stickiness makes the food particles harder for your saliva to wash off. In addition to lingering on the teeth, they generally have added sugars which can cause build-up on the teeth.
If your child is enjoying sticky treats, be sure they brush their teeth after so that you can avoid build-up.
3. Limit snacking.
Perhaps you have a child that likes to graze on snacks all day long rather than eating larger meals. However, when kids are constantly eating throughout the day, there is not enough time for their saliva to wash away the bacteria.
Drinking water doesn’t clean the teeth as well as saliva. So even if they are drinking to “rinse” their mouth after a snack, it still isn’t enough to combat bacteria build-up. They need their natural plaque fighter: saliva.
So if your child does need a snack in between larger meals, please limit snacks to once or twice a day. Noting that your child’s mouth makes the most saliva in the late afternoon (and the least amount at night), your child’s dental health will benefit the most if you offer your child a snack in the afternoon. This also shows that bedtime snacks are not a good option if you can help it!
4. Buy unsweetened foods.
By serving sugar-free or unsweetened foods, you are eliminating the sugar build-up on your teeth. When you have the option, serve unsweetened foods over sugar-free foods since sugar-free foods may still have artificial sweeteners.
Sugar-free foods might taste a little different at first, but your taste buds will grow accustomed to this flavor in a short time. Serving foods with less sugar will also expand your child’s palate and enable them to differentiate between different flavors.
5. Serve treats only with meals.
Based on the previous tips, sugary foods are something that should be avoided and immediately washed away if consumed. By serving sugary treats with meals, there is a better chance that the residue will be washed away by your saliva. While you are eating, your mouth produces more saliva. You are also usually consuming a drink that will aid in the process.
If your child insists on a sugary treat, try to serve it after dinner. In the meal beforehand, focus on serving and eating other food will help fill everyone up faster. Filling food has a lot of nutritional value and fiber. This will make them less prone to overindulging in sweets.
6. Serve cheese!
Even though cheese doesn’t clean your teeth as you eat it, it does prevents other foods from hurting your teeth! Cheese is high in calcium, which promotes strong teeth. Cheese also contains a protein called casein which strengthens tooth enamel and helps to prevent cavities.
Cheeses promote saliva, which aids in the process of rinsing out bacteria. Another benefit of eating cheese is that it helps prevent acid from destroying tooth enamel.
7. Brush with fluoride toothpaste and rinse with a fluoridated mouthwash.
Brushing twice a day with fluoride is beneficial when it comes to dental health. Fluoride is preventative for cavities and has also been found to repair mild cavities.
When selecting a toothpaste, check to make sure it has fluoride in it. “Natural” toothpaste is prevalent, but these options are not as effective at preventing cavities. When possible, pair your pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste with a fluoridated mouthwash as well.
Fluoride does not change the taste of the toothpaste and mouthwash; all it does is help make your teeth stronger and healthier!
8. Serve fluoridated water.
Just like it is important to have fluoride in toothpaste, children should drink a pint of fluoridated water every day. Some communities have fluoride in their water source. You can check to see if your city adds fluoride to its tap water here.
You can also find fluoride in many brands of bottled water (such as Poland Springs). If you aren’t sure if a bottle of water has fluoride, just take a look at the ingredients. It will be listed. Keeping a bottle of water in the refrigerator will give your child a refreshing drink that is also good for them!
Concerned about fluoridated water? See your dentist to discuss the efficacy and safety of fluoride in water.
Flossing is the most frequently missed hygiene habit. More than half of Americans don’t floss regularly, and 20% don’t floss at all.
Flossing is critical because it removes leftover food, plaque, and bacteria from between the teeth. Flossing also promotes gum health.
If your child’s gums bleed when you help them floss, that doesn’t mean their mouth is unclean. It’s fairly common for gums to bleed when you first begin flossing between teeth. Your body is trying to irrigate the food, plaque, and bacteria in your gums through this positive inflammation response (bleeding). As long as the bleeding stops quickly, it’s not usually a problem.
You should help your child floss their teeth until they are at least 8 years old. You can use traditional floss or floss picks. If your child is over 8 years old and has difficulty with hand-eye coordination or hand strength, talk to your pediatric dentist about good flossing options for them.
10. Visit the dentist regularly.
Going to the dentist regularly is one of the most critical ways you can prevent cavities and tooth decay in kids! By going to the dentist regularly, you are ensuring that your child’s teeth are healthy and that good dental habits are reinforced.
The pediatric dentist will check your child’s teeth for cavities and tooth decay after the hygienist gives them a cleaning. The dentist will also ask your child about their dental habits, like brushing and flossing. The dentist may recommend dental sealants, which are another great preventative measure against tooth decay.
Going to the dentist is also a great opportunity for you as a parent to ask for advice about snack choices or teeth grinding.
Most children are due for a dental visit every 6 months but talk to your doctor to see if your child needs to go more frequently. Did you know that some children naturally have a higher risk for cavities? Make sure to check out this post that explains dental caries risk assessment.
Call our office at 336-887-9277 to schedule an appointment or request medical advice. We look forward to developing a trusting relationship with your child!