As hard as it may be to believe, a child's visit to the dentist can be an easy and enjoyable experience. The major reason for this turnabout is that tooth decay, formerly the most common of human diseases, is fast becoming a thing of the past.
Studies have shown that water fluoridation has reduced the rate of tooth decay by 20-40%. Many of today's children are cavity-free, which is a huge success story in modern preventive healthcare.
Fluoride and preventive dentistry have been the biggest contributors to improved oral health in children. Fluoride is available in toothpastes, mouth rinses, gels applied in the dental office, and tablets prescribed by dentists. In many communities, fluoride is also found in drinking water.
However, excess fluoride can stain the teeth; so adults should pay close attention as small children brush. Children should be taught to use only a little fluoridated toothpaste, about the size of a pencil eraser. Stress the importance of spitting out toothpaste and mouthwash and not swallowing them after use.
Cavities occur when the bacteria in plaque produce acid that destroy your tooth enamel. Cavities are more common among children. Because of their softer enamel, baby teeth are even more prone to cavities than adult teeth. In addition, small children may neglect or do a poor job with brushing. Nearly half of children under age 11 have had dental caries in their baby teeth.
In addition to good oral hygiene practices, the easiest way to maintain tooth enamel is the placement of sealants by a dentist. Your dentist might suggest sealants for your child's baby teeth if they have deep pits or grooves. Children should get sealants on their permanent teeth as soon as they come in. A painless procedure, sealants are applied to teeth in a process known as bonding. The sealant covers the pits and depressions in the teeth and prevents bacteria from entering. This protects teeth from decay.
While all areas of the US show improvement in oral health, there are still important regional differences in cavity rates. The cause for these differences is not quite understood, although fluoridation of water supplies may be one reason.
As today's kids grow to adulthood, fewer cavities now mean fewer dental problems later. These future adults will need fewer root canal treatments, extractions, crowns (caps), bridges, and dentures than prior generations. Fluoridating water also saves money by avoiding dental fillings.
Tooth decay is a bacterial disease. Cavity-causing germs love to feed on sugars and cooked starches. The longer these carbohydrates keep in contact with teeth, the greater the chance that bacteria will thrive and begin to produce decay-causing acids. Constantly bathing the teeth in sugars and cooked starches is especially harmful. This problem is most acutely observed in small children who are bottle-fed fruit juice and/or milk between regular feedings and while in bed at night. What commonly results has been called "baby bottle tooth decay." To avoid this problem, bottle-fed children should be given only plain water as a beverage between meals and at bedtime.
As a parent, you should speak to your children in positive terms about seeing the dentist. If you are positive, it is likely your child will be positive, too. This will hopefully lay the groundwork for a lifetime of great dental health experiences.
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association
Canadian Dental Association
Dental Hygiene Canada
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Fluoridation facts. American Dental Association website. Available at: http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Member%20Center/FIles/fluoridation_facts.ashx. Accessed May 31, 2016.
Fluoride. American Dental Association Mouth Healthy website. Available at: http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/f/fluoride. Accessed May 31, 2016.
Fluoride for prevention of dental caries. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 11, 2015. Accessed May 31, 2016.
Fluorosis. American Dental Association Mouth Healthy website. Available at: http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/f/fluorosis. Accessed May 31, 2016.
Seal out tooth decay. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research website. Available at: http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/ToothDecay/SealOutToothDecay.htm. Updated August 2012. Accessed May 31, 2016.
The tooth decay process: How to reverse it and avoid a cavity. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research website. Available at: http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/OralHealthInformation/ChildrensOralHealth/ToothDecayProcess.htm. Updated May 2013. Accessed May 31, 2016.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 5/31/2016