Saturday, July 16, 2011

7 Ways to Protect Your Child's Oral Health

Tooth decay -- although largely preventable with good care -- is the one of the most common chronic diseases of children ages 6 to 11 and teens ages 12 to 19. Tooth decay is five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever in children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.  By kindergarten age, more than 40% of kids have tooth decay.

Start Oral Care Early

Your child should see a dentist by the time he's a year old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.  Getting preventive care early saves money in the long run, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report found that costs for dental care were nearly 40% lower over a five-year period for children who got dental care by age one compared to those who didn't go to the dentist until later.

Teach the Brush & Floss Habit

Dental visits are just part of the plan, of course. Tooth brushing is also crucial from the start.  A lot of people think they don't have to brush baby teeth. If your baby has even one tooth, it's time to start tooth brushing.  Even before your baby has teeth, you can gently brush the gums, using water on a soft baby toothbrush, or clean them with a soft washcloth.  Once there are a few teeth present, buy an infant toothbrush that is very soft. Brushing should be done twice daily using a fluoridated toothpaste.  Flossing should begin when two teeth touch each other. Parents should have an active role in brushing and flossing their childs teeth until the child has the proper dexterity to handle the task on their own.  This is usually about the time a child can tie their own shoes.

Avoid "Baby Bottle Decay"

For years, pediatricians and dentists have been cautioning parents not to put an infant or older child down for a nap with a bottle of juice, formula, or milk.  Even so, many parents don't realize this can wreak havoc with their child's oral health.  The sugary liquids in the bottle cling to baby's teeth, providing food for bacteria that live in the mouth. The bacteria produce acids that can trigger tooth decay. Left unchecked, dental disease can adversely affect a child's growth and learning, and can even affect speech.  If you must give your child a bottle to take to bed, make sure it contains only water, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines.

Control the Sippy Cup Habit

Bottles taken to bed aren't the only beverage problem, the other is Juice given during the day as a substitute for water and milk.  Often, that juice is in a sippy cup. It's meant as a transition cup when a child is being weaned from a bottle and learning to use a regular cup.  Parents mistakenly think juice is a healthy day-long choice for a beverage, but that's not the case.  Prolonged use of a sippy cup can cause decay, if the beverages are sugary.  Juice consumption has been linked to childhood obesity and the development of tooth decay, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In its current policy statement on preventive oral health, the organization advises parents to limit the intake of 100% fruit juice to no more than four ounces a day. Sugary drinks and foods should be limited to mealtimes.  Most Pediatricians are telling parents to use juice as a treat.

Ditch the Binky by 2 or 3

Long-term use can be hazardous to dental health. Sucking too strongly on a pacifier, for instance, can affect how the top and bottom teeth line up (the "bite") or can affect the shape of the mouth. Pacifiers are for infants, not for toddlers walking around with them in their mouths. Ideally, pacifiers should be dropped by age 2. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests getting a professional evaluation if the pacifier habit continues beyond age 3.

Beware of Mouth-Unfriendly Medicines

Many medications that children take are flavored and sugary. If that sticks on the teeth, the risk for tooth decay goes up.  Children on medications for chronic conditions such as asthma and heart problems often have a higher decay rate.  Antibiotics and some asthma medications can cause an overgrowth of candida (yeast), which can lead to a fungal infection called oral thrush. Suspect thrush if you see creamy, curd-like patches on the tongue or inside the mouth.  If your child is on chronic medications, it is advised to help your child brush as often as four times a day.

Stand Firm on Oral Hygiene

Parents often say that their children put up a fuss when it comes time to brush and floss, so parents relent and don’t keep up with oral care at home as they should.  We advise these parents to let their children know they don't have a choice about brushing and flossing and here are some tips to reward reluctant brushers and flossers to get the job done -- or if they are too young, to allow their parents to help them do it.
  • Plan to help your children longer than you may think necessary. Most children don't have the fine motor skills to brush their own teeth until about age 6. Flossing skills don't get good until later, probably age 10.
  • Schedule the brushing and flossing and rinsing, if advised, at times when your child is not overly tired. You may get more cooperation from a child who isn't fatigued.
  • Get your child involved in a way that's age-appropriate. For instance, you might let a child who is age 5 or older pick his own toothpaste at the store, from options you approve. You could buy two or three different kinds of toothpaste and let the child choose which one to use each time. You may offer him a choice of toothbrushes, including kid-friendly ones that are brightly colored or decorated.
  • Figure out what motivates your child. A younger child may gladly brush for a sticker, for instance, or gold stars on a chart.

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