Dental caries (tooth decay) is the number-one chronic disease in children, ranking above asthma and hay fever. Kids of all ages need to have a dental risk assessment at least twice a year with a dental or medical health care provider, as caries causes pain and difficulty with chewing, which may lead to poor weight gain, preventing a child’s growth.
Untreated caries may cause a systemic infection, gum abscess or cellulitis. Kids often miss school due to mouth pain, which can result in poor school performance, anxiety, fatigue, irritability or withdrawal from normal activities. Tooth loss from dental caries may impact the development of a child’s jaw as well as his permanent teeth.
It’s important that you take a proactive role in caring for your children’s teeth. Dental hygiene should begin in infancy with gum care and tooth brushing as the teeth erupt. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, your child’s first dental visit should take place in the first year of life. Thereafter, biannual dental visits need to be a routine part of preventative health maintenance.
As kids grow, they should assume responsibility for their daily oral care. Your child should use an appropriate soft-bristled toothbrush that is replaced as it wears, and have easy access to fluoride toothpaste, dental floss and fluoride mouth rinse, located where she does her daily oral hygiene. Establish and encourage a daily routine of brushing in the morning and before bedtime. Remind your children — and even give them an incentive — to care for their teeth and mouth.
Dental and medical communities have promoted preventative measures against cavities, one of the most effective being the addition of fluoride to community water supplies. Only half of the U.S. water supply is fluoridated, and grass roots efforts are needed to encourage all communities to have fluoride added to their water supplies. In January 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended that 0.7 millimeters of fluoride per liter of water be added to community water systems. This occurred because other sources of fluoride such as toothpaste, mouth rinses and water sources are outside the child’s community. You should know the current level of fluoride in your community water supply, and can obtain this information by calling your local water company or having your water well tested. Fluorosis, an abnormal condition caused by excessive intake of fluorides, is a cosmetic condition and does not endanger teeth; in fact, it may be more protective. Fluoride supplementation is most effective under eight years of age when the mineralization of the teeth is still occurring. If your water supply does not have fluoride and other sources of fluoride are low, contact your health care provider about fluoride supplementation for your child.
The application of dental sealants is another preventative measure against dental caries. A noninvasive procedure applied in the dental or medical home, sealants are brushed on the surfaces of the teeth to prevent new cavities from forming. For more information about dental sealants, contact your health care provider.
Preventative dental care is vital part of a child’s well-being. A cavity-free smile means you have a happy child.
Jo Ann Serota, MSN, RN, CPNP, is co-owner of Ambler Pediatrics. A Past President of NAPNAP, she is on the Editorial Board for the Journal of Pediatric Health Care.