The holiday season may bring to mind pleasant thoughts of gifts, family and business celebrations, candy canes and sugar plums. However, while parents may be watching out to avoid those unwanted extra pounds, their active children may be retaining not calories but cavities from holiday sweets.
This need not be so, at least as far as the children are concerned. It is possible to indulge the children a bit as long as parents are aware of some important dental health guidelines. Tooth decay is caused by prolonged contact of sugars and even starches with bacteria that are almost always present on the surfaces of everyone’s teeth. These bacteria break down food sugars into acids that destroy tooth enamel. They produce cavities if allowed to remain on the teeth for any length of time. Brushing and flossing, of course, are intended to remove this bacterial film known as plaque from the teeth.
The most crucial time to brush and floss is at bedtime when the whole day’s accumulated plaque needs to be removed. Studies have shown that decay progresses much more rapidly during sleep because salivary flow is significantly reduced.
But, let’s face it. You can’t brush and floss your child’s teeth every time he or she consumes some sweets. That’s why it’s critical to think about some other factors that are equally important. The frequency with which your child indulges in sweets, the time of day and the stickiness of the sweets all make a difference. Every time your child has a sweet snack like a cookie or candy, some of that food remains in the mouth adhering to the teeth. The amount that remains is essentially the same whether your child had one cookie or many. Therefore, you create more opportunity for decay by spreading her sweet snacks out in little bits and pieces during the course of the day than by consolidating them into only one or two sessions. The same amount of sweets will present less opportunity for decay if given all at once instead of piecemeal.
In addition, the time of day becomes important. If this one major sweet snacking session is an hour or two before bedtime (when your child’s teeth will be brushed anyway), then the bacteria will not get much of a chance to wreak their havoc. However, if this major snacking session was earlier in the day, the bacteria have plenty of time to break down the sweets and to start producing decay causing acids.
The stickiness of your child’s snacks is another important factor. The stickier the snack, the more it will adhere to your child’s teeth and thus increase the likelihood of decay. The same amount of sugar in liquid form, for example, will leave much less residue on the teeth than in solid form. Similarly, solids like cookies will leave less residue than really sticky sweets like caramels. Sticky, sugary foods don’t just have to be gooey candies. They can be apparently healthy things like raisins. They can also be gooey candy masquerading as healthy foods like fruit roll ups. Don’t let the word fruit on the label fool you.
Such commonsense guidelines will help parents to control what treats their child eats and when and how frequently she eats them. And, of course, parents should be sure to brush and floss a child’s teeth at bedtime. Your dental health gift for your family will be an enjoyable and cavity free holiday season.
– Eli Schneider, D.M.D
Parents often ask us, “At what age do you start seeing children?” Most parents assume that their children don’t have to be seen until their child has all of their baby teeth, sometime around age 3 or so. However, we recommend that all children be seen by age one, or within six months of the eruption of their first teeth.
Now while this may seem very early, we believe that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. And we are not alone – the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, all support the one year dental visit.
Here are a few frequently asked questions about this all important visit:
– Why this emphasis on seeing my baby so young? He/She doesn’t even have any teeth!
Good question! Cavities can form as soon as a tooth erupts into the mouth. In fact, baby teeth are highly susceptible to developing cavities if not properly cared for. “Baby Bottle Tooth Decay” is seen in children who are put to sleep with a bottle full of formula. This puts the children at risk for significant pain, infection and damage to the developing permanent teeth. And since, these children are too young to be treated in an office setting, treatment in a hospital under general anesthesia is oftentimes necessary. We prefer to identify problems at an early age, and through simple recommendations, ensure a lifetime of healthy teeth.
– It doesn’t make sense to schedule an appointment if my infant is too young to have her teeth cleaned.
The age-one dental visit is analogous to a “well child visit” with the pediatrician. The focus of this visit is on educating parents, discussing cavity prevention and performing a caries risk assessment. It gives parents an opportunity to learn about proper home care, including brushing techniques, review of diet, proper feeding recommendations, malocclusion that can develop from pacifier use and thumb sucking, appropriate fluoride supplementation and caries prevention. The goal of this visit is to provide parents with useful information that can be used to prevent cavities from forming in the first place.
– Does my insurance cover this year-one visit?
Most insurance plans do cover this visit. However, you should check with your carrier to see if the ADA dental code D0145 (Oral evaluation for a patient under three years of age) is covered.