Most adults remember getting the bad news at least once during a childhood visit to the dentist: You have a cavity. That announcement was followed by the dreaded return visit for a filling. And despite having more cavity-prevention tools at their disposal, many of today’s children are following in their parents’ footsteps.
“Unfortunately, I have not seen a huge improvement overall for a decrease in cavities,” says Dr. Jennifer Boain of Boain Dental Care. “I think a huge problem is that not all children are going in to see a dentist, and our ability to assist parents and children is diminished. Additionally, I still have parents deny sealants; and a lot of times it has been dictated by whether their insurance will pay. They don’t see that the cost long-term will be more expensive.”
Dental sealants are applied to the pits and fissures found in molars as a form of decay prevention. However, children still need to brush their teeth properly and avoid sugary foods and drinks that can cause decay.
Dr. Craig Hollander of Pediatric Dentistry of Sunset Hills explains the mechanism behind the decay process: “Plaque is bacteria, a living organism, and plaque is necessary to keep our mouth healthy. Plaque needs nutrients to survive, however, and it likes to feed on broken-down sugars and carbohydrates. Since we all have to eat, we all have these broken-down carbohydrates and sugars on our teeth after eating. If plaque stays on on our teeth for a long time, it will utilize the carbohydrates and sugars as a food source, and as a byproduct create acid, which is what can soften enamel and start the cavity process.”
Young children who go to bed with milk or juice in a bottle or sippy cup are especially prone to decay, Hollander adds. “Water will not cause cavities. In kids older than age 3, I blame the sticky foods: fruit snacks, raisins, gummy vitamins, etc. Sodas also are a big culprit.” Diet sodas are not a solution since they are more acidic than sugar-sweetened drinks, he adds.
“I usually advise parents to supervise the brushing until (the children) are about 10 or so,” Boain says. “Most kids do not take the time needed to remove the biofilm that can be the home for cavities to develop. Also, parents are not always there to see what their child is eating or drinking.”
Boain also recommends regular dental checkups for kids, and notes that parents should talk with their child’s dentist about the use of fluoride rinses. Regular checkups starting six months after the first tooth erupts allow dentists to check for early cavity formation and treat problem areas before they become serious dental abscesses that could compromise the permanent tooth forming underneath.
Starting early and being consistent is key, Boain notes. “The earlier we can educate our children on the importance of keeping our mouth healthy and free of decay, the better chance we have of decreasing future dental health issues, creating a happier, healthier mouth.”