As far as health information, dental knowledge is often a very grey area. Most adult patients have a hard time understanding the importance and causes of good vs. bad hygiene. Throw kids teeth into the mix and you have yourself an even more vague understanding. I often hear- "They're just baby teeth," but nothing can be further from the truth.
Children's teeth are extremely important as they act as space savers for the adult teeth. Here are five common mistakes we as parents make that can cause our kids teeth additional harm.
1. Using soft spouts with food/drink cups
As soon as the first tooth has erupted in your child's mouth, all soft spouts on containers used can be very harmful to their teeth. If the spout on a sippy cup is not hard, the bend in the plastic forms around the teeth creating a suction seal. This seal traps sugars and carbohydrates found in sweetened liquids, milk, juice or other pureed foods and smoothies.
Bacteria in the mouth thrive on sugars and produce acids that attack the teeth. The acid then breaks down the PH Level in the enamel and can cause a condition known as Baby Bottle Decay (cavities in the front teeth shaped like a ring). Without the use of proper products, bacteria can reach levels that could lead to oral infections, tooth decay, gum disease, on top of other health issues. An easy way to help eliminate this is by only using a hard spout; you should not be able to squeeze it. The spout allows the food or liquid to go straight back into the back of the mouth towards the molars NOT the front teeth and no hard suctions occurs.
2. Over use of sippy cups
Sippy cups are designed to transition children from a bottle to a real cup. They are intended only to be used up to 4 months. Over extended use can be harmful long term. I have seen first-hand as a dental professional how it can be very damaging not only in tooth decay, early orthodontics, but also a factor in the early delay in speech development.
Continuous sipping on these cups prevents your child's natural saliva from washing away sugars that can remain in the mouth, clinging to the teeth causing cavities. As your child's teeth come in, they can form around soft objects that are placed repeatedly in the mouth. This causes the teeth to point out not straight and not down in line with the lower teeth and jaw, which often leads to the need of early orthodontics to correct. This also causes the tongue to push outwards. It lengthens and results in long speech patterns (speech impediments) because the teeth are not in line to stop this forward motion of the tongue.
Try limiting your child's intake with a sippy cup. Aim on giving drinks before you leave the house and when you return. Use a regular cup whenever possible. If you live in a warm climate or will be out for an extended period of time try bringing bottled water or a snack that doesn't use a soft top.
3. Giving them bottled water
Bottled water sounds like a good idea. We relate bottled water with a cascading waterfall in the Swiss Alps. However, mostly all bottled water does not contain Fluoride. Research shows that Fluoride reduces cavities in children dramatically. It helps restore teeth even before the decay becomes visible. In initial stages it can even reverse tooth decay. Sadly, many people continue to be deceived about Fluoridation and Fluoride. When used appropriately Fluoride works like any other mineral. It is safe and effective.
Giving your child tap water or an at-home filtered system is best. Most states have Fluoride in their water supply, be sure to check your local government. If not, you can purchase Fluoride supplements.
4. Thinking labels like Natural and Organic are always healthy
We all know now that "Organic" food doesn't have all those nasty pesticides. So when shopping, we often grab the pouch or box that says "natural" or "organic." However, the truth is you are not always getting the healthy product you think you are. Sadly, 8 out of 10 baby food companies harm the health of kids in their mission for profits with these two marketing words.
The main way they do this is by adding additional sugars to naturally sweet products. Not only is this harmful to your child's teeth and overall health, but it is completely unnecessary and can be easily avoided.
Always check the labels for the sugar content and steer away from anything labeled "added sugar." Your child should only have 12-16 grams of sugar a day. Look for foods with a naturally low sugar intake such as applesauce, oatmeal, yogurt or a piece of fruit. Making a smoothie by using fruits, vegetables and a milk base of your choice adds protein and reduces high sugar intake.
5. Not having molar sealants placed
As soon as your child is old enough (around 5-6yrs) they should have sealants placed in their teeth. Sealants are a plastic-like dental material placed by a dentist or hygienist into the grooves and pits of the back teeth. This material acts as a block to prevent food, plaque and bacteria from protruding into these microscopic areas. They dramatically reduce cavities in newly erupted premolars and molars and usually will last till their 20's-30's.
Even if your child is a good brusher, these areas in the back of the mouth can be tough to reach. Most insurance companies will cover sealants for your child or an out of pocket fee is usually not high. In any case, sealants are a very easy and affordable way of preventing painful, expensive and unnecessary visits to the dentist!