Tooth decay, even in the earliest stages
of life, can have serious implications for a child's
long-term health and well-being and it's becoming a more
pressing issue every day. A recent report from the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
comparing the dental health of Americans in 1988-1994
and 1999-2002 found a 15.2 percent increase in cavities
among two- to five-year olds.
As an effective way to begin a lifelong
program of preventive dentistry, the American Academy of
Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that dental visits
begin with the appearance of a child's first tooth,
typically around six months but no later than one year.
"During the "first-tooth visit,"
pediatric dentists check for proper oral and facial
development to determine whether teeth are growing in
properly and to detect early tooth decay," says AAPD
past-president, H. Pitts Hinson, D.D.S. "It also gives
dentists the chance to walk parents through a home
dental care program for their children."
Early preventive care also is a sound
health and economic investment. Some parents avoid
taking children to the dentist to save money, yet
studies show that the dental costs for children who have
their first dental visit before age one are 40 percent
lower in the first five years than for those who do not
see a dentist prior to their first birthday.
In addition, without preventive care,
the impact of tooth decay on child development can be
striking. Numerous studies have linked childhood
cavities with lower than ideal body weight. Even more
disturbing is evidence that the effects of poor oral
health may be felt for a lifetime: Emerging research
suggests that improper oral hygiene may increase a
child's risk of eventually having low-birth-weight
babies, developing heart disease or suffering a stroke
as an adult.
In addition to regular dental visits,
the AAPD recommends that parents take the following
precautions to help prevent tooth decay in children:
Brush your child's gums twice a day
with a soft cloth or baby toothbrush and water even
before the first tooth appears.
Talk to your pediatric dentist about
your child's fluoride needs. Infants require
fluoride to help developing teeth grow strong, and
children who primarily drink bottled water may not
be getting the fluoride they need.
If you must put your child to sleep
with a bottle, use nothing but water - other
beverages can damage teeth, leading to cavities.
Never dip a pacifier into honey or
anything sweet before giving it to a baby.
The best times for your child to
brush are after breakfast and before bed.
Limit frequency of snacking, which
can increase a child's risk of developing cavities.
Take good care of your own teeth.
Studies show that babies and small children can
"catch" cavity-causing bacteria from their parents.