6 Ways Parents Can Protect Kids from Tooth Decay

Tooth Decay

Cavities are a very real possibility even before infants develop a taste for candy and other sweet treats that commonly cause tooth decay. That’s right, as soon as the first tooth emerges, it’s time to make good oral hygiene a priority.

Drilling into the data

When you look at the numbers, though, good oral hygiene may not be getting prioritized as needed. In fact, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children--about five times more prevalent than asthma and seven times more than hay fever.  

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 42 percent of children between ages 2 and 11 have had cavities. If you look at the 6-11 age range only, more than half (about 51.2%) of those children had cavities, compared to 28% in the 2-5 group.

Here are a few other startling statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • 20% of children aged 5 to 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth

  • 13% of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth

  • Children and adolescents aged 5 to 19 years from low-income families are twice as likely to have untreated tooth decay compared with their peers from higher-income households, 25% vs 11% respectively

Even more troubling is the fact that childhood tooth decay was on the decline from the early 1970s through the mid ‘90s...then the trend reversed and the prevalence of tooth decay started to tick up again, reaching what some call epidemic proportions. What’s going on here?

Getting to the root cause

Some of the factors contributing to the increase in childhood tooth decay include:

  • Parents putting infants and toddlers to sleep with a bottle, leaving sugary formula or milk to linger on the teeth all night

  • Allowing toddlers to drink juice or sugary drinks from sippy cups throughout the day, keeping teeth coated in enamel-eroding sugar all day long

  • The rise of juice pouches, sports drinks, and energy drinks, giving older kids easy access to sugary beverages in their school lunches or replacing water as their main beverage

While the factors above are newer, there’s still the issue of access to health insurance and good dental professionals to contend with, as well as awareness of how to properly take care of children’s teeth to prevent cavities in the first place.

Developing lifelong oral health habits

While the picture can look somewhat grim, there are steps you can take to help instill good dental hygiene habits in your kids and keep their teeth cavity free.

  • Once the first tooth appears, begin a twice daily routine of brushing with a soft brush and a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste.

  • As infants grow to toddlers, supervise their brushing routine, allowing them to brush their own teeth first to help them develop the skill and the habit, then finishing the job yourself to make sure teeth are thoroughly cleaned.

  • Don’t rely on a bottle to put your child to sleep. Only water after teeth are brushed for the night.

  • Limit your child’s consumption of juice or other sugary beverages, and don’t let your toddler drink from a sippy cup all day.

  • As older kids develop more autonomy, watch their access to sugary foods, snacks, and candy, as some kids may hide such treats in their rooms to have after being tucked in.

  • Remember that teens need reminders of good oral hygiene habits. Keep reinforcing the need to brush twice daily and floss once a day and be sure to model the same behavior.

In addition to the tips above, be sure to make regular visits to the dentist an unwavering part of your child’s healthcare routine.

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