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two siblings hugging outdoors

As parents begin to think about building the perfect box or making cards with candies for Valentine’s Day class parties, it’s also important that they reevaluate how their children are taking care of their teeth on a daily basis.

During February, the American Dental Association (ADA) sponsors National Children’s Dental Health Month to raise awareness about the importance of oral health in children. Although children lose their first set of teeth, oral health begins while the infant is in the mother’s womb and it has been linked to cardiovascular and dementia conditions as well as respiratory and diabetic complications.

While a child (and adult’s) oral routine should only take up approximately 10 minutes a day (brush 2 times a day for 2 minutes, floss daily and eat healthy food), nearly half of all children ages 2 to 11 have been diagnosed with cavities.

With proper education and implementation at home, parents can teach their children how to take care of their teeth and gums so that they can reap the benefits of a healthy mouth for their entire lifetime.

Studies have shown that it is safe for expectant mothers to visit the dentist for their six-month exam to have their teeth professionally cleaned and to have gum tissue examined. It is important that mothers do this because with hormone changes, they are more susceptible to pregnancy gingivitis.

Dental caries, or cavities, can also affect the health of the mother and her baby. Expectant mothers with periodontal disease are also at a higher risk of delivering early or having babies with low birth weight.

But babies are not born with the oral bacteria that causes tooth decay, gingivitis or gum disease. It is likely that babies contract this bacteria through kissing parents, grandparents or siblings, sharing utensils and cups or eating or drinking sugar.

It is important that parents only put breast milk or formula in bottles for feeding, not soda or sugary drinks. Parents should only fill their baby’s bottle with water overnight. Even breast milk and formula have sugar in them. Even though infants don’t have teeth, caretakers should wipe their gum line with a clean, damp cloth after each feeding.

Once a baby’s first tooth comes through, parents can clean their teeth and gums with an age and size-appropriate toothbrush with a smear of fluoride toothpaste two times a day.

At Mahomet Family Dentistry, we would like to see your child in the office before he/she turns one-year old. Dr. Kassem will help parents understand how and when they can expect teeth to emerge, give tips on how to take care of the teeth and make sure the child is getting adequate fluoride.

Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making the tooth more resistant to acid attacks from plaque bacteria and sugars in the mouth. It is also known to reverse early tooth decay. Children who come into Mahomet Family Dentistry receive fluoride treatments and sealants as they get older, but fluoride should be part of the daily oral health routine at home by drinking tap water every day.

As your baby becomes a toddler and goes into kindergarten, parents should supervise their oral routine daily. Make sure your child brushes their teeth for at least two-minutes a day, floss once a day, and eats natural, fibrous foods. Meats, fruits vegetables, proteins and calcium benefit teeth.

Limiting sugar intake is important for your child’s oral health. It is believed that prehistoric children did not have cavities because they did not have access to sugar. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, the average child under 12 consumes 49 pounds of sugar per year. The American Heart Association recommends that preschool-aged children consume no more than 4 teaspoons of sugar, children between 4 and 8 consume no more than 3 teaspoons of sugar and pre-teen or teenage children should have no more than 5-8 teaspoons of sugar each day.

By eating fruits and vegetables with or after each meal, children are using a natural, fibrous material that produces saliva, which kills cavity producing bacteria in the mouth. Lean meats, proteins and calcium include the nutrients teeth need to develop strong enamel.

As children get into first grade and can tie their own shoes, they should be responsible enough to brush their teeth on their own. Parents may need to remind them to brush after breakfast or before bedtime, but with proper training, parents should not have to assist anymore. After three or four months, the head of the toothbrush will begin to wear down, and parents need to make sure they replace it.

It is also important to talk to your children about the use of drugs and tobacco as these substances can gravely affect one’s oral health, among other things. Smokers are 50-percent more likely to lose their teeth as an adult than non-smokers. They are also at a greater risk for periodontal disease or gum recession. Chewing tobacco users are 50-percent more likely to develop cancers of the cheeks, gums or lip-lining.

By educating your child on their oral health and supervising their routine, we can begin to reduce the number of growing periodontal disease, which have been linked to dementia, diabetes and cardiovascular conditions.

In 2009 and 2010 is was estimated that 47.2 percent, or 64.7 million American adults have some form of periodontitis, according to the study titled, “Prevalence of Periodontitis in Adults in the United States.” That rate rises to 70.1 percent in adults 65 or older.

Remember, it just takes about 10-minutes a day to impact your child’s well-being. Please feel free to reach out to the Mahomet Family Dentistry team if you have any questions.