Have you ever heard the phrase “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? When it comes to kid’s oral health, this is a valuable phrase to keep in mind for its emphasis on the power of prevention. In terms of cavities, preventing tooth decay in the first place is more preferable to developing decay, which must be treated.
Now do not get me wrong, when a child has a cavity, it needs to be treated and that is okay! But just like a car requires upkeep and maintenance, so do fillings and other dental work over time, especially in a child’s permanent teeth. The filling your child gets at 7 years old is not going to last throughout their lifetime -- they will be lucky to get 20 years out of it. When you can prevent the need for dental work, it is best for the long-term health of teeth since it requires less drilling and loss of tooth structure over time. It will also save your child lots of time and money as an adult.
But how exactly do you prevent cavities? Decay prevention involves a series of daily habits and health behaviors, in addition to professional dental care, to keep cavities at bay. In this article, I will discuss the various methods available.
A daily routine of cleaning your child’s teeth through flossing and brushing are the foundation of decay prevention. How so? In a nutshell -- without plaque, cavities cannot occur. Through thorough removal of cavity-causing bacteria on the teeth each day, the chances of decay occurring decreases greatly.
This means cleaning all surfaces of the teeth – the top, front-back, and sides of each tooth are imperative for thorough plaque removal.
To clean the hard to reach spots between teeth that touch, using Grin Kids biodegradable flossers makes the job easy. They also do a thorough job of removing plaque, which is necessary for decay prevention.
Brushing with the right products also makes the difference. You will need a toothbrush that is soft, yet effective, so you can get the job done right the first time. When toothbrush bristles are gentle on your little one’s gums, it can make the toothbrushing experience more tolerable for them. In our household I like to use Grin Kids toothbrushes for this reason.
Despite the heavy emphasis on the importance of brushing and flossing, those two things alone are not enough to prevent tooth decay entirely. Diet plays a BIG role in the decay process. Frequent snacking on food, sipping on sugar-sweetened beverages, and ingestion of fermentable carbohydrates (foods that break down into simple sugars) are the biggest offenders for cavity development since plaque breaks down the sugars into acids. When frequent acid attacks occur, tooth enamel becomes weak over time, and a cavity can result.
What is a parent to do?
- Limit between-meal snacking on fermentable carbohydrates as much as possible. Serving whole fruits and dairy products are much better snack options than offering potato chips or veggie straws.
- Serve water throughout the day, as the primary drink of choice. Limit serving acidic drinks like lemon water or sodas, and sugar-sweetened beverages like fruit juice or sports drink as much as possible; when you do serve them, give them with meals - all that chewing will stimulate salivary flow and help to clear the acids and sugars from the mouth faster.
(Note: Please use your discretion with the above advice – these tips are geared towards kids that are not ingesting formula or breastmilk as their primary form of nutrition, and for kids that can chew hard foods like apples.)
Professional Dental Care
Visiting the dentist twice a year (or more if your child’s dentist recommends it) are important for monitoring progress and changes in your child’s oral development.
At these appointments, your child’s teeth will be professionally cleaned, and application of fluoride will be applied. Think of fluoride as vitamins for your teeth – it has remineralizing properties that strengthens tooth enamel which becomes susceptible to breakdown every time you eat and drink.
Another preventive measure your child’s dentist is likely to take if they’re a little older (age 6 and up) are application of dental sealants; sealants seal the grooves (the lines on the chewing surfaces of the teeth) to make them smooth and easier to clean with a toothbrush. Some teeth naturally have very deep grooves which makes cleaning down into all the nooks and crannies with a toothbrush difficult to impossible; sealants are great at protecting these sites!
Applying a sealant is an easy step and the good news is they can last for a number of years – I still have patients in my 20’s and 30’s who have sealants from childhood!
By taking active steps each day to promote good oral health for your child, you are not only preventing tooth decay, but you are also setting them up for a lifetime of good oral health.
About the Author
Katie Steger, BSDH, is a dental hygienist and mom and the founder of @healthyteeth.fortots, an Instagram platform designed to provide early childhood oral health education and support to parents with dental anxiety. Katie is passionate about oral health education, the impact of nutrition on the developing dentition, and educating parents and families on strategies to make oral hygiene more accessible. Resources can be found on her website: www.KatieRDH.com