Cavity prevention ranks right up there with homework and taking out the garbage among kids’ favorite topics to discuss. Heck, some kids may rather go to bed early than talk to their parents about what they’re doing to keep their teeth healthy.
But knowing how to eat healthy and practice good teeth hygiene is essential to kids’ overall oral and physical health. Because tooth decay, cavities and root canals are three of the least fun words in the English language, kids must know how they can avoid painful cavities and extra dentist visits through simple, easy – and dare we say fun – dental health steps.
Let’s start with giving kids the straight unsweetened truth about cavities (also known as dental caries): they are literally holes in the teeth caused by tooth decay. This toothache story begins when food debris is left on the teeth –especially food debris coated in sugar – bacteria begins to digest it, dissolving the debris into acid. Throw saliva into the mix, and the food, bacteria and acid form plaque – a sticky substance that sticks to the surface of teeth. Given time, plaque eats away at the protective tooth enamel (which, in kid speak, is our teeth’s shield against all bad food stuff) and causes cavities.
And, in kid speak, cavities are like Lord Voldemort (who, let’s face it, took horrible care of his teeth) attacking your teeth. And let’s be honest, no kid wants to end up looking like Lord Voldemort!
The numbers are scarier than the damage a daily diet of Dairy Queen Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Blizzards can do to a kids’ teeth. The Child Dental Health Survey reports almost 50 to 60 percent of kids ages 5-6 have at least one cavity in a baby tooth, while an alarming 10 percent have seven or more cavities.
So how can parents, who let’s not forget are our kids’ best role models for strong teeth health, teach kids good teeth care habits and easy cavity prevention techniques that don’t require kids to eat nothing but broccoli and carrots? By following these easy 10 Tooth Commandments:
- Brush Your Teeth: Even 4-year-olds know brushing teeth is important, but kids –and, yes, most adults – don’t do it enough. Dentists recommend brushing with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice daily, but the ideal schedule should be to brush after each meal and snack. Frequent brushing is especially important for kids who have a history of cavities.
- Brush The Right Way: Most kids think just sticking toothpaste on a toothbrush and brushing for 25-30 seconds will get the job done. If cavity prevention were that easy, almost all dentists would be out of work. Parents and dentists should teach children how to brush: All surfaces of the teeth and along the gum line for two minutes per brush. Parents should brush their teeth with their young children until kids show they can brush well on their own.
- Flossing: It’s not the most exciting method of cavity prevention, but flossing is an essential weapon in preventing tooth decay. Again, parents should show their kids the proper way to floss.
- Mouthwash: A fast and easy companion to brushing, mouthwashes can reduce plaque in the mouth and prevent cavities when used along with a strong oral health routine.
- See The Dentist Twice A Year: Kids worried about an intense cavity investigation may see the dentist as the boogeyman (except at Iowa Pediatric Dental Center), but visiting your kids’ No. 1 ally against cavities twice a year for cleanings and checkups goes a long way to stopping cavities from invading their teeth.
- Practice Junk Food Will Power: The hardest of all teeth commandments (especially at Halloween and Christmas time) is the toughest for kids to follow. But by limiting sugary and starchy foods (cookies, potato chips, pretzels, chocolate, sugar cereals, etc), kids not only improve their oral health, but their overall health as well. Parents hold the keys to limiting their kids’ junk food prevention. Remember, it starts in the grocery store.
- The 1 Soda A Day Policy: Just like sugary foods, sweetened, citric acid-rich sweetened drinks like Coke, Pepsi, Snapple Teas and fruit drinks soak the mouth with bacteria-feeding sugar. Parents can allow their kids to enjoy the sweet riches of soda and fruit drinks by limiting their consumption to meals only – followed by mandatory brushing.
- Sugar-Free Gum: Hubba-Bubba, Juicy Fruit and Wrigley’s have well-earned reps as the fun gums to chew, but Sugar-Free Dentine, Trident and Orbit contain xylitol – which reduces oral bacteria – and have the American Dental Association’s stamp of approval for their ability to help prevent cavities.
- A Smart Halloween Candy Plan: Parents wonder why dentists call November their favorite month. Few parents want to cut their kids off from the sweet joy of Halloween, but having kids practice a smart and non-spooky Halloween Candy Plan (enjoying a limited and pre-set number of treats, followed by rigorous brushing) can help them avoid ending up with both a belly ache November 1st and an awful toothache down the road.
- Never Consume Anything But Water Just Before Bedtime: Beware those puppy dog eyes asking you in their sweetest voice if they can have just one or two cookies before bedtime. A late night, post-brushing snack right before bedtime undoes all the cavity-fighting work that brushing does, and allows sugars and bacteria to sit on kids’ teeth all night.
Helping kids win the game against cavities can seem like a tough job on the surface, but by implementing a strong oral health game plan parents can have their kids winning the all-important fight against plaque, cavities and tooth decay.