Adults play crucial role in promoting good dental health among children, say experts
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
In a sense, dentists treating children see two patients with each visit: the child and the accompanying parent. While the dentists treat the child, the parent receives dental education to improve home care.
Several issues consistently come up during these visits. Cynthia Wong, pediatric dentist and program director for the pediatric dentistry residency program at URMC, said that one of these is grazing.
“Parents don’t know that when kids have cavities, it might be that they’re grazing a lot, even on healthful foods,” Wong said. “It doesn’t matter the quantity but the frequency. If we keep munching all day long, it’s like a car being used 24/7. It breaks down. Cavities usually happen more when there’s more frequent food intake. We suggest that if they need a snack, time it.”
Instead of allowing all-day Goldfish snacking from the package, parents should offer one portion for five minutes. If it is not finished, the remainder of the portion should be taken away.
For children who frequently claim they are hungry, parents should remain strict about eating times. Many times, it is just boredom or thirst instead of hunger.
“They will develop a sense of hunger that will train them to eat enough,” Wong said.
It takes about 30 minutes for saliva to reduce the acid in the mouth. However, a drink of water can help.
In addition, children should begin seeing the dentist by one year of age. Although it seems too early to many parents, Wong said it is important so that dentists can detect oral problems early, help children feel comfortable visiting the dentist and establish good home care with parents.
One aspect of home care that many parents overlook is flossing. Stuffing large hands into tiny mouths is challenging. However, floss picks may make it easier.
“When there are older children and the compliance isn’t always good, keep the flossers where they rest, like in cars, near the TV or computers,” Wong said. “A lot of kids have video game time. It takes time for a game to load and that’s time to floss. Ideally, it should be before bed. Flossing during the day would be a good way to integrate it.”
Brushing should occur at least twice daily: after breakfast and before bed. Not every patient consistently complies with this guideline.
“Often, even with adults, sometimes they brush more in the morning but often forget at night,” said Lindsey Behrman dentist and pediatric dental attending at Pluta Dental Center in Rochester. “That’s super important because you want to make sure all the food that’s been on your teeth all day is off your teeth. It’s an all-you-can eat buffet for the bacteria. You usually have less saliva at night.”
Brushing after lunch is good as well. However, most children are not able to do so at school. Rinsing the mouth with water can help reduce the bacteria load after lunch.
Parents should help their children brush until age 7 or when their manual dexterity is sufficient to do a good job. Otherwise, Behrman said that it is easy for children to miss spots.
She also encourages brushing the tongue.
“We have papillae,” she said. “It’s like a carpet for food and plaque to accumulate. After you brush the teeth, brush the tongue.”
She also cautions parents about allowing children to sip beverages all day (unless it is water). Diluting it with water does not make a difference regarding its affect on teeth.
“Drink juice only with meals and keep it to one serving a day,” Behrman said. “I try to tell parents, have them use water in a bottle. Anything like juice or milk, keep it at the table in an open cup or sippy cup. Take it away when the meal is over and then give a water bottle back.”
Behrman also reminds many parents to have their children wear a mouthguard for sports beyond just football and lacrosse. A collision with other players, equipment like the net or ball or falling during play can endanger teeth.
“Get a fitted mouthguard, not a floppy one that moves in the mouth,” Behrman said. “If they have a very deep bite or their top teeth are farther out than the bottom ones, they’re more at risk for a dental issue.”