During February, we celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month. It is sponsored by the American Dental Association to raise awareness about the importance of dental health.
Yet, even with awareness raised, tooth decay is the No. 1 chronic childhood condition. More than 40 percent of children have dental cavities by the time they reach kindergarten.
Untreated Dental Decay
Maybe you are wondering why cavities are a big deal? If left untreated, tooth decay can have not only social-emotional consequences, but it can also lead to life-threatening secondary infections such as an abscess and cellulitis. When decay becomes so bad that the teeth can’t be restored, the teeth may have to be removed, which can cause self-esteem issues and affect a child’s ability to chew. If the severe decay is in primary teeth, the premature loss of these teeth can cause neighboring teeth to drift toward the empty space, which leads to the need for orthodontic treatment.
The list of problems caused by untreated tooth decay is extensive:
- Infection such as abscess or mandibular cellulitis (lower jaw swelling)
- Tooth loss
- Compromised speech development
- Inability to chew, which can lead to malnutrition or anemia
- Increased likelihood of missing school due to pain
- Severe dental disease in children that may require the use of general anesthesia and hospitalization
When Should a Child See the Dentist for the First Time?
Many parents wait until a child has all their baby teeth in before they see the dentist, but the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that parents go by the time a child turns 1 or within six months of the first tooth erupting.
Visiting the dentist at a young age helps ensure the first visit is a positive one that is not associated with any pain or treatment. The dentist can look for any early problems, and the child will be more comfortable at subsequent appointments. This also helps establish the habit of regular dental check-ups.
What Parents Can Do
In addition to seeing a dentist early on, there are many things parents can do to help children get off to a good start with dental hygiene.
- Babies should have only breastmilk or formula in a bottle. When he or she is old enough to drink something other than milk, water is the best option. When a baby is 6 to 8 months old, he or she can start using a cup for drinking.
- Give your child tooth-friendly foods such as cheese and chopped vegetables, which are low in sugar, and promote chewing and saliva production.
- Let your child choose a favorite color or character toothbrush and toothpaste. Make sure everyone has an individual toothbrush and that the brushes don’t touch. Dental bacteria can be spread.
- Read books and watch videos about dental hygiene.
- Plan a fun activity or reward for a good dental visit. Just make sure it’s not a sugary treat!
If you have questions about your child’s dental health, please contact Enlighten Dental Care at (336) 765-0904.