February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. Here’s what you need to know about starting your kids off for a lifetime of good dental hygiene.
For many of us, brushing our teeth is a habit that would be hard to break.
But once we start having kids, good dental hygiene becomes a process we must build. And it has its challenges.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five kids ages 5 to 11 and one in seven adolescents ages 12 to 19 have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), which is “meant to raise awareness about the importance of oral health.” Awareness is important given that tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in kids, according to the NIDCR.
“Tooth decay is preventable and yet we are still seeing many young children even between the ages of 2 to 3 that are still getting cavities,” said Dr. John De Lorme, pediatric dentist at South OC Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics in Mission Viejo.
He said the most important thing parents can do to help start their children off for good dental health is to begin early.
“We recommend seeing a pediatric dentist by age 1 to establish a dental home and to learn tips and tricks to help you in your daily routine,” he said.
He added that brushing and flossing should begin as soon as your child’s very first tooth erupts.
“Start establishing a brushing and flossing routine early on and be consistent,” he said. “Make it a fun experience and even sing songs.”
He said it’s important to remember that all families struggle early on in the process until they establish a consistent routine.
“It will get better,” he said. “It’s never too early to start on the path to good dental health.”
Dr. Sarah Mathias, a pediatric dentist at Jungle of Smiles in Laguna Hills, said some of the main issues she sees in her practice are tooth decay, cavities, poor oral hygiene and orthodontic problems. She said that dental health extends beyond brushing and into nutrition.
“Generally, the American diet with high carbohydrates and high sugar is a major challenge,” she said. “The foods that tend to be quick and convenient tend to be more cavity-causing—such as juice boxes and gummy snacks, ketchup, etc. People eat these foods due to convenience.”
In teens, she sees a decline in good oral hygiene because of busy school schedules.
But most oral hygiene problems are preventable. It starts with taking your kids to the dentist early in their lives and seeing the dentist regularly. She recommends monitoring your kids’ brushing even as they get older.
Another bit of advice that may come as a challenge for some athletic families is to never buy sports drinks, juice or fruit snacks.
“My biggest thing now is to avoid sports and energy drinks,” she said. “Energy drinks like Gatorade and Red Bull have less sugar than soft drinks but are actually more corrosive to dental enamel than soda. I find that there is a misconception that if it is not soda it is OK. Plain water is what you need even if you are an athlete to promote good oral hygiene.”
She also recommends to visit your dentist for an application of dental sealant when your kids’ permanent molars erupt, which typically occurs at ages 6 and 12. Dental sealants are a protective coating applied to teeth to help prevent cavities. She said it’s also a good idea to have an orthodontic and dental growth assessment done by about age 7.
She said that some warning signs of poor dental health in children include bad breath, discolored teeth, pain and bleeding when brushing.
Mathias said that to be effective, brushing needs to occur twice a day for two minutes, preferably with an electric toothbrush, and flossing once daily. For reluctant flossers, she said a Waterpik can be a beneficial tool. She said using electric toothbrushes is a good idea to help to prevent tooth decay and keep teeth looking clean and healthy.
“Children should use a fluoride rinse once they are mature enough to spit it out so they are not ingesting it,” she said. “My recommendation would be to have parents be solely responsible for their child’s dental hygiene until age 5 and then give the child more responsibility [until] age 10 with daily parental supervision, and once a child turns 10, parents can begin to be more hands off and check in to make sure they are practicing good dental hygiene habits.”
Though this is a tentative guideline for parents to follow since some children mature more quickly and will be ready to handle their oral hygiene earlier while others will require more assistance.
At Jungle of Smiles, Mathias uses the Waterlase dental laser for many procedures.
“The lasers are unique in that they allow us to do numerous procedures in one sitting,” she said. “Waterlase dental lasers are great for children because they are less painful and less invasive than other treatment options. Children that are treated with dental lasers have less recovery time than those undergoing traditional procedures. In pediatric dentistry, dental lasers represent a breakthrough as they help to remove the stigma of scary dental visits and make the entire experience easier on kids and their parents.”
Of course, establishing a lifetime of good dental hygiene takes practice and patience. But ultimately, putting in the time will go a long way.
“One way to overcome challenges is to make time during a busy schedule to carve out time to brush or floss,” she said. “For me, I put a toothbrush in the car for my preschooler in case we don’t have time—little things like that will make it easier.”
By Jessica Peralta