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Children’s Oral Health and the Relation to Family and Caregivers

Posted on May 20th, 2013
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By: Alison Aldridge

It probably comes as little surprise to learn that the oral health of a child is closely related to their family’s oral health, in particular to that of their primary care giver which is usually the mother. New born babies do not have high levels of bacteria in their mouths, but generally acquire these bacteria from their primary care giver, usually through having close contact with this person. Most of these bacteria tend to be transmitted through kissing, or through sharing food or utensils, or by the caregiver cleaning a pacifier through licking it. Children are most susceptible towards picking up these bacteria early on in life, from approximately 6 months of age to 31 months of age.

Children’s First Dental Visit
This susceptibility is one of the reasons why dental professionals emphasize the importance of caregivers looking after their own oral health through attending regular dental appointments and the development of good oral hygiene habits. A child’s first dental visit is also vitally important and is an excellent opportunity for caregivers to learn about proper oral hygiene and care. A baby’s first dental visit enables any possible dental problems to be quickly diagnosed, and just as importantly can set the scene for a lifetime of good dental health.

This first dental visit can be invaluable in helping parents or caregivers learn the correct techniques for cleaning their children’s teeth. Adults need to take responsibility for brushing their children’s teeth until they are about the age of seven. Although adults can allow children to brush their own teeth while supervised, they should make sure they brush their teeth for them at least once a day, preferably last thing at night so the child goes to bed with a perfectly clean mouth.

Dental professionals can also provide important advice on the most tooth friendly foods for children. It’s a common misconception that healthy sounding foods such as fruit juice and granola bars must be good for teeth as they are full of vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately they’re also full of natural sugars, and the carbohydrates contained in granola bars in particular will stick to the teeth, allowing oral bacteria an extended amount of time to feed on leftover fragments of food, producing acid as a by-product. In general parents are advised to limit the amount of sugary foods eaten by their child, and to choose the times when they are allowed sugary foods with care. For instance it’s better if they eat foods that are high in sugar as part of a meal rather than as a snack.

Breaking the Cycle of Tooth Decay
This will help to prevent cavities forming by breaking the cycle of decay whereby oral bacteria are continually in contact with carbohydrates to produce acid, and this acid is continually in contact with the teeth, slowly demineralizing and weakening the tooth enamel, causing cavities to form. This cycle of decay can be broken by helping to reduce the amount of oral bacteria through good oral hygiene, by limiting the frequency of sugary carbohydrates, and possibly by making the teeth more resistant through using fluoride. Fluoride usage can be a contentious point, and it’s something well worth talking to your dental team about. They will give you advice based on the fluoride present in your local water supplies. Many dentists don’t advise the use of fluoride toothpaste before the age of two as a young child is unable to spit out the excess.

For more information on children’s oral health, contact Dr. Hawkins and his team at Hawkins Family Dentistry in Midlothian, VA today!

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Written by Dr Alex Hawkins

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