What childhood illness is seven times more common than hay fever—and can set your child up for a lifetime of trouble?
Chances are, you didn’t think tooth decay. Few parents know that it’s the No. 1 chronic childhood illness, says Mary Hayes, DDS, a Chicago-based pediatric dentist and spokesperson for the American Dental Association. “Tooth decay is a quiet disease,” Hayes says. “It doesn’t make kids uncomfortable or sick until it gets really bad, so it often goes unnoticed.”
So in honor of National Children’s Dental Health Month, here are five keys to keeping your child’s smile bright and happy, now and as they grow.
Schedule a birthday dentist’s visit. The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends scheduling a first dentist visit within six months of when your child’s first tooth appears, and no later than his or her first birthday. Only one percent of babies meet this suggested milestone – yours should be one of them.
Don’t share utensils or “clean off” pacifiers in your mouth. Doing so can transfer cavity-causing bacteria from your mouth to your child’s. “Babies aren’t born with this bacteria, but they acquire it from their parents,” says Hayes.
Remember that even baby teeth need floss. “Flossing becomes important as soon as you have two teeth touching,” says Hayes. You can use floss holders or single-use plastic flosser devices on very young children to make the task easier.
If your water’s not fluoridated, ask about an Rx. About 70 percent of public water systems in New York State, including all of those in New York City’s five boroughs, provide fluoridated water, which has been shown to help prevent tooth decay (it’s especially protective when children are young and their enamel is still forming). But the majority of water on Long Island is not fluoridated, and if your home is served by private well water, it probably isn’t either. If your child’s not getting fluoride from drinking water, ask your dentist or pediatrician whether a prescription for fluoride pills or drops is recommended. And whether you have fluoridated water or not (you can find out here), your child should use a fluoride toothpaste as soon as he or she is old enough to use it without swallowing.
Don’t let young kids brush unsupervised. “Children generally don’t have the fine motor skills to do a good job brushing their teeth until they’re around 6 or 7,” says Hayes. “If your 5-year-old wants to brush himself, that’s great, but you can’t assume he’s getting everything clean.” It’s fine to let younger children practice brushing on their own. Just make sure you also take a turn, before or after they try it themselves.