Hi there, Mamas! Here’s a question for you: What is the most common chronic disease of childhood?
Some thoughts might be asthma, anemia, or now days, type 2 diabetes?
Actually, the most common chronic disease for kids aged 6-19 is… tooth decay. That’s right – cavities! I know that I don’t tend to think of “cavities” as a disease, per se, but if good oral health care habits aren’t established in childhood, it can lead to a lifetime of problems down the road.
We all know that teeth are so important! When we take care of them, they take care of us (by allowing us to chow down on some pretty delicious healthy foods)! Interestingly, a lot of the same principles apply when eating for healthy teeth and eating for general health and a healthy body weight.
L just had her first dentist appointment this week. I wasn’t really sure what to expect for a 20 month old. We took her to a pediatric dentist office, and couldn’t have been happier with our experience!
Everything was pretty straightforward – they got a medical history, went through her diet and oral care habits, and then the dentist counted her teeth and applied a fluoride treatment. (L wasn’t a fan of the counting part, but liked the grape flavor of the fluoride, so overall I’d say it was a win!) The hygienist told the dentist that she was impressed with our habits and that we were in “really good shape!” I won’t lie, it was a proud-Mama moment, for sure!
So, what were these habits, exactly?
The “habits” included things like:
- Brushing (of course). We’ll start with a freebie. From the time kids get their first tooth, it’s important to start brushing their teeth. This is one that we will have to work on. L’s dentist said that a common place that children get cavities is near the gum line because their lips often cover the very tops of their teeth. It’s important for parents to clean along the gum line for toddlers and younger kids until they can do it themselves.
- Using a bottle/cup overnight. Ever hear of “baby bottle cavities”? That’s the term used to describe cavities occurring in infants or toddlers. Often, a cause is sending baby to bed with a bottle or cup full of formula or milk (or any other drink besides water). While it might save Mama or Daddy a trip to baby’s room overnight for a feeding, it primes the mouth for decay by allowing carbohydrate (sugar) to rest on the teeth overnight. Also, if a child is reclining to drink, some of the beverage can pool in the mouth, so the total exposure time is longer than if a child were seated upright. Further, depending on the age of the child, it could be dangerous and pose a choking hazard.
- Types of drinks. We talked here about juice and how that can affect baby’s teeth and overall health. However, other drinks, including milk or formula, contain sugar, and therefore contribute to tooth decay. I was really surprised when the hygienist asked if we give L soda. Soda??!! She’s not even two years old yet!! (Please, do your child a favor and save the soda for when they are older – at least school age!)
- Timing of drinks. The frequency and total amount of time that someone sips on sugary drinks impacts the overall risk of cavities forming. Unless your child is eating, they shouldn’t be drinking anything but water. This limits the time that sugar is on the teeth. If your kiddo is sipping on milk or juice all throughout the day, several things can happen. First, they are constantly bathing their teeth in potentially-decay causing sugar. Second, they are getting calories that they’re not thinking about – essentially mindless munching in liquid form. Because their bodies know they’re getting energy, they might not be hungry at meals or might appear to be more picky when healthful mealtime food is offered. Neither one is good!
- Sweets/candy. This might seem obvious, but even some healthy-sounding snacks can wreak havoc on healthy teeth. Fruit snacks, for example, aren’t only sweet, but they are sticky, to boot! When foods are sticky, it’s harder to remove them from teeth, so there is a greater chance of tooth decay. A lot of fruit-flavored candies, as well as caramels, share this same stickiness. Do your kids a favor and offer them fruit if they’re craving a “fruit snack”!
So what are things we can do to help our kids eat for healthy teeth and overall good health?
- Start brushing as soon as the first tooth pops through, with extra attention to the gum lines.
- The only drink your child should take to bed (after teeth have been brushed) is water – when they are old enough to do so safely.
- Any type of beverage with sugar (which are most, besides water), can continue to bathe teeth in sugar. Keep non-water drinks (milk, juice, etc…) to meal times only.
- Only water should be consumed between meal and snacks.
- Offer fruit instead of fruit snacks. Not only will the fruit give your kiddos filling fiber and tons of nutrients, but most fruits aren’t sticky, so they won’t leave them with cavities as a keepsake. Looking for an indulgence? Try chocolate (sans the caramel) or low-fat fro yo (for an added calcium boost) for sweet taste without the stickiness.
- Of course, make sure your kids are getting enough calcium (found in dairy milk, fortified non-dairy milks, and green leafy vegetables) for strong teeth and bones.
- Be sure your kiddos see their dentist regularly!
What tips has your kids’ dentist given for a healthy smile?