People automatically assume that because I am a dentist, our children love to brush their teeth. While they do become accustomed to brushing their own teeth, love is not a word that I would use to describe their relationship with brushing teeth by any stretch of the imagination. We fight the same battles, have the same wrestling matches and emerge victorious just like other parents.
Like those other parents we cross our fingers that our kids do not have any cavities at their regular cleanings and exams. While addressing those cavities is something I can personally manage, it is still something that is irreversible and that we try to avoid. Hence the nightly wrestling matches with the youngsters.
Everyone knows that brushing and flossing are vital parts of keeping your kids cavity free. So if we make such a committed effort to brush and floss, why are our kids still getting cavities? This is a question that I am asked frequently by parents. The answer may surprise many people.
First things first, unless you have a miracle angel child, they probably don’t love to brush their teeth and tolerate it at best. With a child fighting and squirming, it can be difficult to get the teeth brushed and flossed adequately. This goes on until around age three of four when the child gives up the fight and becomes more compliant. During those younger years of inadequate brushing and flossing many parents wonder if there is anything that can be done. The answer is yes. What many people may not know is that there are multiple elements beyond dental hygiene that affect tooth decay.
Tooth decay is caused by a disease known as caries. Caries occurs when acid removes minerals from the structure of the tooth. There are a few different sources of this acidity. It can be dietary (low pH foods such as soda, sour candy, or vinegar based dressings) or it can be a by-product of bacteria present in the mouth. This bacteria metabolizes fermentable carbohydrates or sugars and turns them into acid.
So why does this matter to keeping your kids free of tooth decay? Interestingly, people are born without the bacteria that causes dental caries. This bacteria (streptococcus mutans) is transferred by sharing saliva with someone else who has the bacteria. Infants can either go without this bacteria for several years, or they can contract this bacteria before breaking their first tooth. Many of the acts that a caregiver performs as acts of love can transfer this bacteria and introduce a major element of the tooth decay process. An example that I see on a regular basis is putting your baby’s food to your mouth first to be sure that it is an appropriate temperature. While being willing to allow the food to burn your mouth rather than your child’s is most definitely selfless, it can also spread the bacteria that causes caries and start the process of tooth decay.
Much like most diseases, bacteria play a primary role in the development to tooth decay. Keeping this bacteria from spreading to your child during the years of more difficult oral hygiene care will drastically decrease your child’s susceptibility to tooth decay.
Avoid the following to help prevent sharing oral bacteria with your child:
- Cleaning your child’s pacifier in your mouth.
- Sharing toothbrushes.
- Eating from the same spoon or sharing food.
- Sharing straws of cups.
- Any other activities that might transfer saliva to your child.
While it is very unlikely that a person will go their whole life without contracting this bacteria, research shows that the longer you can prevent your child from getting the bacteria, the less likely your child will be to develop tooth decay. Combining a mindfulness to not share saliva, with daily wrestling matches (brushing and flossing), limiting snacking on sticky foods that are high in sugar and regular dental visits (starting at age 1) can reduce tooth decay in your child.
- Berkowitz RJ, Turner J, Green P. Primary human Infection with Streptococcus mutans. Arch. Oral Biol 1980; 25:221-224.
- Tanner ACR, et al. The microbiota of young children from tooth and tongue samples. J Dent Res 2002; 81:53-57.
- Berkowitz RJ. Causes, treatment and prevention of Early childhood caries: A microbiologic perspective. Can Dent Assoc 2003; 69:304-309.
- Grinderfjord M, et al. Stepwise prediction of dental Caries in children up to 3.5 years of age. Caries Res 1995; 30:356-366.
Dr. Drew is a dedicated family man and a well respected dentist. He is the owner of Oxford Dental Care in Idaho Falls. Dr Drew’s philosophy towards dentistry is to provide the best dentistry available in order to fix the issues that already exist and to thoroughly educate so that they don’t happen again.