Teeth and Your Child, After the Teeth Erupt Part;2
Up until now we have mainly considered how to help your child to develop sound teeth. As the tooth begins its eruption into the mouth, its environment suddenly changes. Now it can be attacked by food and acid-forming bacteria; these can break through even very hard enamel and eventually cause a cavity. Some teeth can be so severely damaged that they have to be removed.
There are two apparent ways to combat the damaging effect of these acid attacks: Eliminate to a large extent the refined sugars and clean the teeth thoroughly.
Modern diets contain much of refined sugars and rapidly fermentable carbohydrates such as sucrose. These, in combination with certain strains of bacteria, can be very damaging to tooth structure. Dental investigators have come to appreciate that the eating of excessive amounts of such carbohydrates speeds up the progress of tooth decay. On the other hand, if the intake of refined foods is reduced or even eliminated from the diet of children, the decay rate is likewise slowed down or even stopped.
Some children are much more susceptible to cavities than others. The decay rate differs widely from child to child, but the fact remains that much of the decay problem is tied up with the intake of sweets.
An effective program for cutting down on the consumption of sweets begins with the parents. Parents who consume a large quantity of cookies, candies and cakes themselves will have a hard time convincing their offspring not to do the same. Children develop an appetite for sweets at an early age. If such foods are kept around the home all the time and are readily available, then poor eating habits will be the result. This does not mean that sweets have to be eliminated entirely. Proper cleaning after such snacks can also be an effective way to cut down on the cavities.
Usually a child can be taught to brush his teeth as early as two years of age and no later than three. Parental supervision, of course, is important. And it is a good idea for the parents to brush their teeth at the same time and thus set the proper example. This also encourages the child to keep toothbrushing a part of his daily routine.
After the child has had an opportunity to do his share, the parent may want to go over the teeth again to be sure a thorough job has been done. Areas of special concern at that age are the tops or biting surfaces of all the back or molar teeth.
The cheek and tongue sides of those teeth, near the gumline, are frequently areas that decay because they are not brushed properly. Food particles are allowed to build up, causing a white ring around the teeth in this area. Even after the food material is removed, the acid from the food and bacteria may leave a white ring in the enamel as evidence of decay activity. Proper tooth brushing can do much to prevent this from happening.
It takes practice and a lot of effort to do a thorough job in cleaning the teeth with a toothbrush. By the age of three a child usually has twenty primary or baby teeth in the mouth. Each of these teeth has five surfaces that need to be cleaned. That amounts to one hundred tooth surfaces that need attention. In the permanent set of teeth, there are 32 teeth or 160 surfaces to keep clean. Think of that the next time you pick up your toothbrush!
Toothbrushing is probably the most widely practiced method of cleaning the teeth. Brushing in any old way is not good enough. There are several methods advocated by the dental profession. As has been stated in the November 1969 Journal of the American Dental Association, “Effectiveness of oral hygiene procedures is more a matter of technique and effort than of materials used.” You can improve on your technique, as well as the amount of effort you put into the cleaning of your teeth, with practice.
Any supplementary methods for cleaning teeth, such as the use of dental floss or tape, toothpicks and inter-dental stimulators should be done before brushing, especially if a medicated dentifrice is used. To do the most good, these cleaning agents need to reach the teeth.
Dental floss is probably more effective than any other method for cleaning between the teeth. Because it can be drawn down gently in between the teeth, it can dislodge food particles and debris that a toothbrush would never reach. This is important because most tooth decay and periodontal disease start between the teeth. Flossing should be followed with vigorous rinsing to wash away the loosened particles. If this procedure is followed up with a thorough brushing of the teeth and gums, the mouth will feel refreshingly clean.
There will be times when a person is caught without his toothbrush and toothpaste. When this happens, one can use a clean, rough washcloth to accomplish an emergency cleaning. Mouth rinsing will also help to a certain extent when no other method is available.
Decayed areas will show up as small dark-colored areas in the grooves and crevices on the biting surfaces. They also appear as dark-gray areas between the teeth. In these little cracks and fissures, food is sometimes packed and can be difficult to remove. As the bacteria in the mouth begin to act on it, an acid substance is produced. This acid is what does the damage. Of course, it takes several acid attacks eventually to break through the outer enamel surface. Once it makes its way into the inner tooth structure, the dentin, this process proceeds much more rapidly, as the dentin is much softer.
So the time to stop the process is before it starts, by removing food particles, especially the carbohydrates, from the teeth quickly. This means teaching children to brush after snacks as well as after meals.
Brush any suspicious areas very thoroughly. If the area is still dark or discolored after careful brushing, a trip to the dentist is in order. The smaller the cavity when discovered, the simpler the repair will be.
Age three is a good time for your child’s first visit to the dentist whether you see cavities or not. Usually by this age all the primary teeth (twenty) are fully erupted into the mouth and need regular care to remain healthy.
Each primary tooth is actually holding space needed for the permanent tooth that is developing in the jawbone underneath it. If the primary tooth is lost due to decay or other factors before the permanent tooth is ready to erupt, then the teeth tend to crowd together. Thus there may not be enough room for the permanent tooth.
Much expensive tooth-straightening work can be avoided by helping your children to keep all primary teeth as long as they were intended to be there. This is also true of the permanent teeth. If one is lost, it is wise to have it replaced. Of course, you can get along without a replacement, but the missing tooth eventually causes other problems, such as teeth shifting out of proper position or alignment, causing food to pack in between.
So, there are many factors in developing and maintaining sound teeth. Some of these factors you can control. Why not teach your children proper care of their teeth from an early age? Later on, they will be most grateful.