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CHICAGO--Did you know that tooth decay is one of the most common childhood diseases? Although oral health has improved over the last 20 years, tooth decay remains a serious problem for children. Tooth decay is five times as common as asthma and seven times as common as hay fever.
Some parents don't place enough emphasis on good oral hygiene for their children. As a result, children may suffer tooth decay and prematurely lose their “baby teeth.”
“Some parents think that it doesn't matter if the baby teeth decay because they fall out anyway,” said Mary Hayes, DDS, a pediatric dentist in Chicago, “This is a myth. It is very important to preserve the baby teeth because they play an important role in the child's overall health and development.”
Dr. Hayes explained that a child needs baby teeth for speech development as well as a “positive” self-image. In addition, the baby teeth are important because they keep a space in the jaw for the permanent adult teeth. If a baby tooth is lost early, the teeth beside the lost tooth may move into the vacant spot. When the adult teeth finally come in, there may not be enough room. This causes crooked teeth and a crowded mouth.
The loss of teeth at an early age through decay can result in “failure to thrive, impaired speech development, absence from and inability to concentrate in school, and reduced self-esteem,” according to a report on Oral Health and Learning, published in 2001 by the National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health, Georgetown University, Health Resources and Services Administration, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The report estimates that 51 million school hours are lost each year because of dental-related problems, and students with untreated dental problems may have difficulties concentrating and learning at school.
The Chicago Dental Society (CDS) recommends that proper dental care should begin even before the first tooth comes in. Parents should clean the child's mouth and gum pads soon after birth so that the child becomes familiar with these types of sensations in and around the mouth at an early age.
How soon can children brush their teeth alone?
Children do not develop the fine motor skills necessary to brush their own teeth until about age seven (or when they can tie their own shoes). It's a common myth that toddlers can brush teeth by themselves. Until age seven, parents need to help the youngster to brush to make sure teeth are cleaned effectively. Parents should cradle the child's head in their lap or arm and then gently brush their gums and teeth. The child may be lying down on the floor, couch or bed while the parent is brushing the teeth.
CDS and Dr. Hayes offer the following guidelines for a toddler's oral care.
Brush the teeth really well at least once a day, and then once or twice again during the day. Don't schedule brushing when kids are overtired. Brushing the teeth doesn't have to be part of the bedtime routine--in fact, some kids will resist because they associate it with going to bed. Try brushing right after dinner, instead.
Flossing can begin when any two teeth come together and touch--which may be anywhere from 8 months to 3 years old. Parents need to do the flossing until the child is old enough so as not to hurt the gums.
Make sure the child eats a well-balanced meal and eliminate in-between meal snacking.
Soft, rounded bristles that clean teeth but are gentle on gums are the best brushes for children. Replace a child's brush at least every two to three months. If a child has a contagious disease, such as strep throat, the toothbrush should be thrown out after the child has been on antibiotics for 24 hours. Buy inexpensive toothbrushes. Toddlers chew on the toothbrushes and they wear out quickly.
Don't let a young child run around with a toothbrush in his or her mouth, or in the hand because he or she could fall and get hurt.
Sharing an eating utensil with a child is a “no-no.” If parents have decay in the mouth, they can transfer the bacteria to their child via a spoon or fork, if they are feeding the child.
Putting a child to bed with a bottle filled with milk, juice or any other sweet beverage can cause a dental condition known as “baby bottle tooth decay.” Letting the child take a bottle filled with water to bed is fine. Children should be off a bottle by age one and be drinking from a cup.
Have a child wear a mouthguard during sports to protect the teeth.
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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