Catrinel Stanciu | 6/24/2005 6:21:51 PM
February is Children’s Dental Health Month. LSU AgCenter nutrition expert and dentist Catrinel Stanciu says now’s the time to ask yourself about your children’s oral hygiene.
"Do your children brush their teeth at least twice every day?" "Do they floss regularly?" "Do they follow a healthy diet?"
Stanciu says children need strong, healthy teeth to chew their food, speak clearly and have a good-looking smile.
"Baby teeth are as important as the permanent teeth, so don’t wait until all the baby teeth are gone to take your child to the dentist or show them how to brush and floss. That would be too late!" Stanciu warns.
Baby teeth keep space in the jaw for the adult teeth. If a baby tooth is lost too early, the teeth beside it may drift into the empty space. When it's time for the adult teeth to come in, there may not be enough room. This can make the teeth crooked or crowded.
Baby teeth can appear as early as 6 months of age and should be completely erupted (come through the gum) by the age of 2 or 2 1/2. Usually girls get their baby teeth earlier than boys.
"Some parents don’t realize that baby teeth can decay soon after they appear," Stanciu points out, explaining, "Baby teeth are like permanent teeth, just smaller and with shorter roots. They can have the same diseases as permanent teeth."
Permanent teeth appear around 6 years of age, and these are the teeth that we keep (or we should) for the rest of our lives. Once a tooth is lost, another one won’t replace it. That’s why it is very important to take good care of teeth from the day they appear in your mouth.
Many factors contribute to dental diseases. Eating habits are a very important one, according to the dentist.
"Children are not responsible for the foods that are purchased, so it is the parents’ responsibility to educate their children and offer healthy foods," Stanciu says. She notes that parental education is very important so children know how to behave when the parents aren’t around, such as at school.
Research has shown that soft drinks play an important role in causing tooth decay and potential enamel erosion, because they create the perfect environment for bacteria multiplication, especially when consumed between meals.
"Sweet liquids are a perfect food for bacteria," Stanciu says, explaining, "They multiply and attack the enamel (the outer skirt of the tooth), causing decay. By the time the decay is noticed, it may be too late to save the tooth."
Soft drinks are also associated with overweight and obesity among children and adolescents. If they understand why it is important to stay healthy, including keeping their teeth healthy, they won’t run to the vending machine and drink several regular soft drinks a day, especially between meals.
Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement to restrict sales of soft drinks in schools, to protect children’s health. According to the policy, between 56 percent and 85 percent of school-age children consume at least one soft drink daily. As soft drink consumption increases, milk consumption decreases, and milk is the principal source of calcium in the typical American diet.
Calcium is needed for strong teeth and calcium deficiency can lead to increased risk for dental caries and osteoporosis.
Stanciu offers tips that may help you keep your child’s teeth healthy and strong.
• Start brushing your child’s teeth as soon as they appear.
• Never let your child fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, juice or other sweetened liquids.
• Teach your child how to brush his or her teeth as soon as possible. Use a soft, small toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride helps keep teeth strong and prevents tooth decay. Practice with your child in front of the mirror, to make sure that a correct brushing technique is used. Teach them to brush teeth twice a day (in the morning and in the evening, before going to bed). Do not allow them to eat or drink after brushing teeth in the evening (water is OK).
• Begin flossing after all baby teeth have appeared.
• Offer healthy foods to your children and teach them healthy eating habits. They may not like it now, but they will thank you later.
• Don’t give your children sticky foods, especially sweet ones, between meals. Foods that should be avoided include: chewy chocolates, marshmallows, caramel popcorn, candy bars, peanut butter, raisins, cookies, juices or other sweet beverages. These foods stay in the mouth longer and are difficult to be washed away by saliva.
Encourage your children to eat whole fruits and fresh vegetables. For a healthy snack, offer a raw fruit, baby carrots or other vegetables and plenty of water. If they do eat between meals, they should brush their teeth. It is OK to have sweet foods with meals, because saliva that we produce during meals will wash away the acids responsible for cavities.
• For children 1 to 6 years old, limit the intake of fruit juices to 4 to 6 ounces a day. Don’t offer juice at bedtime!
• Make sure your children get the calcium they need every day. Children between 1 and 3 years old need 500 mg of calcium a day, children between 4 and 8 years old need 800 mg a day and children between 9 and 18 years old need 1,300 mg a day. Remember, an 8-ounce glass of milk has about 300 mg calcium! Cheese and yogurt are also good sources.
• Make regular visits to the dentist. Start no later than your child’s first birthday. If you think your child has dental problems, go to the doctor as soon as possible.
Chewing gum is considered a bad habit by some people. The truth is that chewing gum helps the body produce more saliva. This is very important for "cleaning" the teeth and gums. Saliva contains substances called antibacterial factors. These "soldiers" help take out bacteria from teeth and gums. So, chewing a sugar-free gum after a meal is good for your dental health, especially if you’re not able to brush your teeth, such as after lunch, when you don’t have a toothbrush available.
"Remember, a healthy diet and healthy oral hygiene habits will keep that smile on you and your children!" Stanciu says.
For local information and educational programs in related areas of family and consumer sciences, including nutrition and health, parenting and family economics, log on to the LSU AgCenter Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com or call your parish LSU AgCenter Cooperative Extension office.