Wellness

Kids’ Oral Health: What Parents and Caregivers Should Know

Young boy standing in front of the mirror brushing his teeth.

Parents and caregivers want to give their kids the best start in life. They provide them with clothes, shoes and nutritious foods. But they may forget to take important steps to ensure kids enjoy healthy teeth and gums. Many kids of all ages in America have oral health problems. One in five kids ages 5 and younger, and 50% of those ages 6 to 19, have experienced dental caries, otherwise known as tooth decay, research shows. Here’s what parents and caregivers should know about their kids’ oral health.

Decay starts early

One of the best ways parents and caregivers can help young children grow and develop correctly is to take them to the dentist before age 1. Dental experts say that after kids’ teeth erupt from the gums, they are at risk for decay. Wipe new teeth with a soft cloth to keep them clean. By the time kids turn age 1, most have a mouth full of baby teeth. Parents or caregivers should schedule their kid’s first dental check-up between 6 and 12 months of age, and for sure by the 1st birthday.

During the first visit, the dentist will check the healthiness of the child’s teeth and gums, and look for signs of potential problems. The dentist also will provide tips to help kids develop good oral habits.

Often parents don’t see the need to take their kids to the dentist by age 1. However, if kids have their first dental visit at age 2 or 3, they are at greater risk of oral health problems. One study found that the cost for a dental visit at age 1 was $300 less than for those who had their first visit at age 3. If dental disease is not treated, kids may require emergency care, such as surgery to remove decayed teeth under anesthesia, a procedure that can be expensive.

If kids learn good dental care habits, they can avoid getting cavities, reports the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. This way, kids will benefit from healthy baby teeth that lay the foundation for strong adult teeth.

Impact on quality of life

Dental decay can impact kids in many ways beyond their oral health. In fact, it can affect their quality of life in at least six ways:

  1. Tooth loss, damage

    Tooth decay in kids’ baby teeth can worsen as permanent teeth develop. If a tooth becomes infected, an abscess can form, killing the nerve. Then the tooth probably will need to be pulled. If baby teeth are lost too early, when permanent teeth erupt, they can come in crooked, causing bite problems.

  1. Pain, poor nutrition

    Kids with tooth decay can experience oral pain, especially when chewing food. They may choose only soft foods they can easily gum and swallow, such as bread, cake and donuts. If kids don’t eat healthy foods, they may not develop correctly, and could weigh less than 80% of their ideal weight. Or conversely, with too many carbs, they may gain unwanted weight.

  1. Drug reactions

    Kids with advanced decay may require multiple doses of antibiotics. Repeated use of some medications can cause them to develop an allergic reaction or resistance to drugs. Also, the extensive use of acetaminophen can cause serious medical problems and endanger kids’ lives.

  1. Low self-esteem

    When kids have oral pain, they tend to be shyer when talking or playing with other kids. If they have missing or discolored teeth, they may hesitate to smile and laugh. More and more kids are doing classes online. But many don’t like how their smiles look on the computer screen. Learn why kids may have nightmares about their teeth.

  1. Learning problems

    Kids with oral health issues often struggle to pay attention in school. They are three times more likely to miss school, and often don’t complete homework assignments.

  1. Sleeping problems

    Studies show that kids with painful teeth also have difficulty sleeping. Since they don’t get quality sleep, it’s more difficult for them to focus on class discussions as well.

Healthy teeth

Parents and caregivers can help kids have healthy teeth and gums, and a good start in maintaining their oral health, by doing three things:

  1. Dentist visit by age 1

    After the first tooth erupts, or by age 1, schedule the first dental check-up. The dentist will check the child’s teeth and gums, and provide tips for brushing and flossing. Follow the dentist’s recommendations for follow-up dental check-ups.

  1. Daily brushing and flossing

    Teach kids to brush after breakfast and at bedtime – for at least two minutes each time. Let them know it’s not about how hard they brush, but how long they brush. Brushing needs to be done gently with a soft-bristle toothbrush. In addition, introduce them to the habit of flossing, which also needs to be done gently. Then show them how to swish out their mouth with fresh, clean water and spit it into the sink. Parents and caregivers may find it helpful to review these tips to make brushing fun for kids.

    Parents and caregivers should provide kids with a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits and lean meats. Offer healthy snack choices, such as low-fat cheese and yogurt, veggies, almonds and fruits. For drinks, offer water or low-sugar beverages. After consuming a sugary treat, encourage kids to swish clean water around in their mouth to rinse sugar and food particles off teeth and gums.

  1. Provide nutritious meals and snacks

    The foods and snacks kids eat can affect the healthiness of their teeth. About 91% of parents know that a poor diet can harm kids’ tooth development. But over 50% admit giving their kids unhealthy snacks several times a day.

Source:
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry