Good oral healthcare in children is important for their overall health and well-being. Unfortunately, cavities are the top chronic health conditions affecting children in the US. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by age 8, over half of children (52%) have had a cavity in their primary (baby) teeth.
Why are cavities so prevalent in adolescents? Socio-economic status plays a large part in this oral health disparity. Research shows that children from low-income families are twice as likely to develop cavities compared to children from higher income families. In these low-income families, it is common that the parents were not taught proper oral hygiene as a child, which means that they are unable to teach their own children how to take care of their teeth. This creates a harsh cycle of oral health issues, of which most are preventable with prevention education and access to proper healthcare.
Cavities are permanently damaged areas on the hard surfaces of your teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes. They are caused by a combination of factors, including bacteria in your mouth, frequent snacking, sipping sugary drinks and not cleaning your teeth well. Cavities can cause pain and discomfort, and if left untreated, can develop into infections that affect a child’s ability to play, speak, learn, and eat.
Poor oral health in children can also cause low self-esteem and negatively affect their education.
When it comes to oral health in children, prevention is crucial. One of the most important steps in prevention is ensuring that children are being seen regularly by their dentist. Dentists are trained to detect oral health issues early on and can suggest additional measures to help prevent cavities such as:
Fluoride varnish (a topical gel that is applied by dental hygienist or dentist) can prevent approximately one-third of cavities in baby teeth.
Using a toothpaste that contains fluoride and drinking water that has fluoride added to it.
Dental sealants which are applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth and can prevent 80% of cavities.
Common Risk Factors for Cavities in Children
Family members, especially siblings, who also have cavities
Consuming a significant amount of sugary foods and drinks
Special healthcare needs
Wearing braces or orthodontic/oral appliances
Steps for Parents & Caregivers of Pediatric Patients
Wipe gums two times per day with a soft, clean cloth. Once after the first feeding and once right before bed.
When teeth come in, begin brushing two times per day with a soft, small bristled brush and plain water – toothpaste is not necessary at this age and can be harmful if ingested.
Babies should have their first visit to the dentist before their 1st birthday.
Brush teeth twice per day with fluoride toothpaste. Make sure to assist your child as they are learning to help them develop good brushing skills.
If you have a child who doesn’t like to brush – try using a timer or making a game out of cleaning their teeth.
Attend regularly scheduled dental visits.
For more information on children’s oral health, be sure to visit https://healthychildren.org/english/healthy-living/oral-health/pages/default.aspx.