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Having been in the dental field providing screenings and care for over 13 years, I have been able to see the trend of a caregiver’s (parent or grandparent, etc) dental health IQ and dental decay.  Here are some of the findings:

  • How much you know about taking care of your teeth affects your children
  • The caregiver is the key to success for a child’s dental health
  • Caregivers are, or should be, the most influential person in a child’s life
  • Parents and grandparents have the ability and responsibility to their children to keep them healthy…mind, body, and spirit
  • Children are watching and learning by example

While these points may be known to some parents, they are not known to all.  I have heard several excuses for children having health problems, anything from “He will cry if I don’t give it to him” referring to candy or a bottle at night, to “well, it didn’t hurt me as a child”.  These thought processes can be very damaging to your children.

So what can you do?  Stand up and make a change.  Your children are important to you; make the necessary changes in their lives, if not your own, that will provide them with the education and environment that will cause change. 

The numbers don’t lie.  Over the past year, I have personally been working with several school districts providing dental screenings and collecting data.  The average rate of dental needs (one or more areas of possible cavities) hovers around 30-35%.  This is alarming! Every third child that was screened has suspected dental decay or other dental related problems! 

Why is this an issue?  Primary teeth, or baby teeth, have several very important jobs.  They do fall out and are replaced by adult teeth, so why even bother fixing them or putting the effort in to preserve them?  The simple fact is, children need their baby teeth!

These teeth hold the place for adult teeth to erupt; they help guide the adult tooth into the proper place.  They have nerves and can cause life threatening abscesses just like adult teeth. Children with dental issues can run fevers, suffer from infections, and lose attention in school due to pain.

Even today, the value placed on body health far outweighs the value of dental health.  The stigma that you can live without teeth is rampant.  The mouth is most definitely part of your body!  There have been several links discovered with oral health and medical issues such as:

Alzheimer’s

Stroke

Arteriosclerosis-- Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, 2003; 23:1245

Heart Disease--Journal of Periodontology, Dec. 2007; 78(12)2289-302

Diabetes

Preterm labor in pregnant women

Preeclampsia in pregnant women

You obviously want to protect your children from these health issues, and it could be as simple as taking them to a dentist on a regular basis and maintaining their dental health at home through routine home care.  Children should see a dentist before the age of one…many general dentists will not see a child until the age of three or four, but this does NOT mean that they should not be seen by a dental professional.  If this dentist does not see infants, then find a dentist that will.  I have personally discovered two-year-olds and younger with rampant decay and abscessed teeth!

Here are some helpful hints to helping your child maintain their dental health, and help protect their overall health in the future. 

  • Help brush your child’s teeth until the age of seven or eight. They do not have the manual dexterity to reach all the areas or get all the angles that they need to keep their mouth clean.  Even if it appears that they are doing a good job, they are missing something!
  • Brushing must be done twice daily, for two minutes using fluoride toothpaste. Children under the age of two can now use fluoridated toothpaste, but the amount should equal the size of a grain of rice. Over two years of age should have a small pea sized amount of fluoridated paste, and if spitting well while brushing, you can use a pea sized amount of paste.
  • Chalky white spots along the gums of their front teeth are signs of dental decay; these areas should be evaluated by a dental professional. Dark spots are possible evidence of more advanced dental decay; please have your child see a dentist to discuss your options.
  • Just because you lost your teeth, does NOT mean that your child will. Even though there are genetic links to dental decay or periodontal disease, this does not mean that it is inevitable.  This simply means that you need to be more proactive in your child’s care.
  • Pacifiers and thumb sucking should be subsided by age two. These habits can affect the growth of their mouth.  These can cause what is called an “open bite” in which the front teeth are flared and do not touch when your child closes their teeth together.  This can make it difficult for the child to eat certain foods.
  • Bottles and sippy cups at bedtime are not recommended, and if they are used, NOTHING but WATER should be given at bedtime. Anything else can sit on the child’s teeth and cause cavities to form. I hear parents say “But they cry and can’t sleep without their milk”.  My response is always that they will have a few rough nights and so will the parents but in the long run, it’s better for their health.

As more and more research is conducted, the evidence points to the link between dental and overall health.  If you become proactive in your child’s dental care, you may be saving them the heartache of major medical issues in the future.  You love your children, no doubt about that.  Sometimes it is hard to know or follow through with the right care.  Fight the fight and pick your battles with your children, but do not let the important things fall through the cracks! Dental health care is definitely one of these important battles.

As a registered dental hygienist, I perform dental screenings for the WIC program in the St. Genevieve Health Department on Mondays, and can provide free dental screenings to your children.  We also have other dental hygienists available at the Hillsboro WIC office in Jefferson County.  Please call COMTREA at 636-232-2334, for more information.

Written by: Sandra Holifield, Oral Health Outreach Manager

 

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