To borrow from the esteemed Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” And, while Mr. Franklin coined the phrase in reference to the need for fire insurance, it’s certainly applicable to just about every area of life – including dental care. So, along those lines, we decided to give a nod to pediatric preventative dentistry, and suggest a few ways you can ensure your children (babies and teens alike) have in place a dental strategy that protects their oral health through adulthood.
For the Baby
Cavities are good at doing their dirty work regardless of age. That’s why you’ve got to be careful you don’t unwittingly increase the odds your little one will end up with a cavity before their time. There are two important steps you can take to stay ahead of the game:
- First, restrict bottle usage prior to bedtime. Or, at least brush or wash their mouth prior to bed. Furthermore, allowing a child to sleep with a bottle that drips into their mouth all night long is considered the number one reason for baby bottle tooth decay, so pack up the bottle at bedtime.
- Second, don’t share eating utensils with your child. Why? Surprisingly, by sharing your child’s feeding spoon, you can actually transmit the bacteria that cause tooth decay from your mouth to the mouth of your baby. How’s that for gross?!
Between Ages 6 and 13
With the arrival of your child’s six and twelve year molars come increased risk for decay. The wonderland of grooves in those new big teeth are wonderful traps for food, acid and sugar, and kids in this age group just aren’t the best at taking care of their teeth. To counter this perfect storm, here are two considerations:
- First, you may wish to think about dental sealants. Sealants are hardened plastic shields placed on the chewing surface of your child’s molars and pre-molars to seal the surface of the tooth and help keep food and bacteria from causing cavities. It’s pretty much a win-win for both parent and child. Dental sealants don’t cost much, match the exact color of your child’s tooth, and are quick and easy to apply.
- Second, understand the effect of too much or too little fluoride. There is a bit of science involved in determining the right amount of fluoride a child needs, and your dentist can provide great advice when it comes to figuring things out. Too much fluoride from water and supplements can stain your child’s teeth, and too little can set them up for decay. So, check with your doctor for the course of action regarding supplemental fluoride as it specifically relates to your child.
For Your Teens
With baby bottle decay, sealants and fluoride out of the way, your main preventative measures for teenagers are going to revolve around keeping their teeth in their head, and preparing for the possibility of wisdom teeth extractions.
- Mouthguards, mouthguards, mouthgards. We talk a lot about mouthguards because they save teeth and protect heads. Professional athletes wear them for a reason, and it isn’t to look cool. If your child is active in sports – even the backyard variety – please consider investing in one. The American Dental Association estimates that “a full third of all dental injuries are sports related… and that, the use of a mouthguard can prevent more than 200,000 oral injuries to the mouth each year.” And, the risks of playing sports without the necessary protection aren’t just related to teeth loss: a harsh impact to the jaw can cause a concussion that could have otherwise been avoided.
- Listen to the advice of your doctor when it comes to X-rays. Today’s dental X-rays are safer than ever before. So safe, in fact, the amount of radiation a child is exposed to in a bite-wing X-ray of the back molars is roughly equivalent to the amount of radiation they’re exposed to in the environment on a daily basis. In addition, many dental offices today use digital X-rays, which further lessen exposure by about 80%. As your teen matures you’ll likely have to consider a series of X-rays to help create a clear picture as to the location and depth of wisdom teeth, not to mention general care that helps diagnose decay, pathology or any abnormalities not visible to the naked eye.
Of course, it goes without saying that regular visits to the dentist fall within the realm of preventative dentistry as well, but we’ll assume you already knew that! Here’s to covering all bases with your kids regardless of their age.