Tooth decay is among the most common dental conditions in children. Untreated, it can lead to pain, infection and even tooth loss. Although dental care is widely available in the United States, about 20% of children, ages 5 to 11, have at least one untreated decayed tooth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In adolescents, the number is about one in seven.
While the prevalence of tooth decay may seem surprisingly high, the good news is that this common condition is almost always preventable. Fluoride varnish can prevent about one-third of decay in baby teeth. Fluoridated tap water and fluoride toothpaste also help. As well, dental sealants to chewing surfaces on back teeth are effective in providing one more layer of protection against tooth decay.
As a parent, there are also proactive strategies for protecting your child’s teeth. Along with using fluoride toothpaste, it’s important to choose the right toothbrush. Nylon-bristle brushes abrade fragile gum tissue which can make teeth more vulnerable to decay. By making the switch to a rubber-bristle brush, you can ensure that daily brushing isn’t doing more harm than good.
Younger children often don’t have the motor skills to effectively brush their teeth. It’s also helpful to help with brushing and flossing, as well as by demonstrating, by example, proper dental care techniques.
Of course, what your child eats and drinks can dramatically impact their oral health. By limiting sugary snacks, soda and other refined carbohydrates, you can minimize damage to tooth structure and gums. A balanced diet and plenty of water is not only good for overall health, but also for maintaining a healthy smile.
Cavities Aren’t a Rite of Passage
While most adults have at least a few dental fillings from childhood, cavities and tooth decay shouldn’t be considered a rite of passage. Don’t let your child be among the one in five with untreated tooth decay. Make dental care a daily activity and stay current with regular dental cleanings and checkups. By doing so, your children will thank you one day for helping them navigate the first steps in their lifetime journey of dental health.