Dental decay is preventable, and the war on tooth decay starts at their early age. There are a few conditions where the teeth come through poorly formed as a result of a genetic condition or a disturbance which happens around the time of birth but these are in the minority. Most of the children and young people I see have holes which could have been avoided. So is it just a case of eating fewer sweets? Well yes, and no. Yes, because diet is a big factor, but it is not the only one.
Here are some tips to stop your child getting holes in their teeth:
1) Treats without sweets
Try to use alternative treats to sweets – putting money in their piggy bank or buying a small gift can work as great rewarding tools without wrecking their teeth. Also try not to introduce them to sweets at an early age; what they do not know, they will not want. You can do that by removing any sweets from around the house and by finding alternate tasty treats. You can only “shield” them for so long, but at least you will be buying some time before having to monitor them around the clock. Of course make sure your friends and especially grandparents are aware of these rules when they are around the kids, otherwise, your “evil” plan will be uncovered too soon!
2) Spit, don’t rinse
When brushing, encourage your kids to spit out excess paste, but not rinse their mouth with water. Rinsing washes away the fluoride, the magic ingredient in toothpaste, which helps reduce dental decay.
3) No eating before bedtime
Dentists call the hour before bed, “The golden hour”. Avoid letting your child have anything to eat or drink in this time aside from water. Whenever we have anything containing sugar to eat, it takes our mouths time to recover and to move from the process of demineralization (teeth’s loss of minerals, such as calcium in hydroxyapatite from the tooth matrix, caused by acidic exposure, making holes in teeth) to remineralization (rebuilding them again). When we sleep, our mouths dry out and we lose the protective effect of saliva. This is why having sweet things in the hour before bed is a recipe for disaster.
4) Read the label
“No added sugar” does not mean “Sugar free”. Soda pop drinks should be kept as a mealtime treat; diet drinks are better than “full fat” equivalents but remember that the acid can still cause erosive damage to teeth. Also be cautious with giving dried fruits as a snack because the process of drying makes the sugar more concentrated and produces a sticky food which can stay on toddler/kids teeth for hours. Fresh fruit is much less damaging to teeth.
5) Reduce sweet treats to mealtimes
Just like with adult diets, the key is to minimize the quantity and frequency of sugary foods. While it is impossible to completely eliminate it or prevent them from getting it, but make sure they are given treats with or after a meal. This causes less damage to teeth because it is the same “intake” of food rather than a separate episode of demineralization. Remember, children are not born with a taste for fizzy drinks and sweets, they acquire it.
6) Supervise brushing
Supervise your child’s brushing until they are 8 years old as they do not have the manual dexterity to do it efficiently by themselves. By all means let them brush their own teeth, and do not be afraid to do a quick check up once they are done. The best way is to schedule your own rushing at the same time; kids at a young age love to emulate their parents or siblings.
Take your child for a check-up every 6 months or more frequently if your dentist recommends. These visits will allow your child to get used to the dental environment and for your dentist to spot problems when they are easily fixable and to monitor their healthy and adequate growth process.
8) Use a fluoride mouthwash
Once your child can spit out effectively, you can encourage them to use a fluoride mouthwash at a different time of day than when they brush their teeth. Why a different time of day? To get an extra dose of fluoride protection as your toothpaste will do that for you when brushing… Did you know that using a fluoride mouthwash every day can reduce dental decay by 30%. That’s not a bad investment for 2 minutes of work, is it? Any alcohol-free, fluoride mouthwash will do the trick.
9) Reward good brushing
Rewarding brushing with good positive reinforcement is good practice. Do not bribe, as bribery can have the opposite effect, causing your child to “negotiate” whenever he needs something.
10) Lead by example
Don’t be afraid to say no to your child. Parenting is, amongst other things, about setting boundaries for your children. Try not to create bad habits which your child may take with them into adulthood; schedule your brushing together, and do not do anything that contradicts what you teach them when it comes to hygiene (and other things of course). You are their role model; lead by example…