By Dr. Shoreh Selki
Raising cavity free kids is no longer an idealistic dream for parents. By following a few simple guidelines, we can make it an achievable reality. As a mother of three, I understand the challenges parents face in the battle against dental decay; shops full of attractive looking junk food, soda and snack machines in every corner, sugar loaded birthday parties and class parties. In the recent years, tooth decay has been identified as the single most common chronic childhood disease, yet 90 percent of all tooth decay is absolutely preventable.
Let’s get to know the enemy before we talk about prevention techniques. Tooth decay or cavity is an irreversible infection of the tooth caused by several caries-producing bacteria. These oral bacteria attach themselves to the tooth surface by a sticky substance called plaque. As bacteria feeds on the sugar we eat, it produces an acid from the breakdown of the sugar. It is this acid exposure that attacks the tooth and destroys its surface over time. Oral hygiene is the primary line of defense against tooth decay. Healthy eating and drinking not only plays an integral role in overall health, it can have a profound impact on oral hygiene.
Prenatal Parental Oral Health and New Born Oral Care
Dental decay is a transmittable infectious disease. The bacteria can be transmitted from either parents especially the mother or even the siblings to an infant through saliva. It has been well documented that the type and the strength of the oral bacteria of a baby are in most cases identical to the mother.
- During pregnancy and the first few months after birth, optimize your oral health. This will minimize the transfer of the bacteria to your baby.
- Scientific evidence suggests that chewing Xylitol gum 2-3 times a day by the mom would significantly decrease the bacterial transmission to the baby. Xylitol is a natural sugar that can be found in some fruits and vegetables ( berries and mushrooms) that has been shown to have anti-bacterial properties against the oral bacteria.
- Avoid saliva-sharing behavior, such as sharing spoons, cups, and cleaning a dropped pacifier or toy in your mouth.
- Wipe your baby’s gum with wet gauze 2 or 3 times a day. Xylitol wipes are also available.
Baby’s First Year Oral Care After Teething
The first year is probably the most important time for caries prevention.
- Start brushing the baby’s teeth twice a day as soon as they erupt with a super soft tooth brush. No tooth paste is needed.
- Avoid saliva-sharing
- After the eruption of the top teeth, avoid nursing or bottle feeding at night time.
- Minimize sugar containing drinks (juice or milk) with sippy cups
- Minimize sugary snacks in between feedings (dry cereals and baby cookies)
- Your baby’s first recommended dental visit to a pediatric dentist is at 12th month.
Toddler and Elementary School Age Dental Care
- Brush their teeth twice a day (after breakfast and before bedtime). You can use non-fluoridated tooth paste until they are able to spit out the tooth paste.
- Start flossing them at age 3.
- Pack them healthy snacks for school. Avoid dry fruits, dry cereals, high sugar containing snacks and potato chips. Be creative and find some healthy yummy snacks to pack (yogurt, cheese, crackers, fresh fruits, pretzels). If you want to give them a sweet treat choose the ones that are less sticky like gummy bears.
- Minimize juice and eliminate soda.
- Reduce snacking in between meals.
- Xylitol gum chewing 3 times a day has shown to significantly reduce oral bacteria in kids.
- Routine dental visits at least every six months.
Following the above guidelines will ensure lifelong healthy habits and beautiful confident smiles for years to come.
Dr. Shoreh Selki has been practicing pediatric dentistry for over 18 years. She maintains private practices in Encino and Agoura hills. Dr. Selki lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children.