National Children’s Dental Month: Protecting children from tooth decay

National Children’s Dental Month: Protecting children from tooth decay

by Lt. Maria Sanchez Thompson
Okinawa Marine

Tooth decay can be painful and may be preventable with proper home care and regular dental visits. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, untreated tooth decay may interfere with eating, speaking, learning and daily activities. Many parents tell their kids not to eat candy simply because it will cause cavities, but it is important to keep in mind that what and when children eat affects both their oral health and general health.

Tooth decay develops as a result of several factors: frequent exposure to a high-sugar diet, frequent snacking, the presence of acid-producing bacteria, poor oral hygiene, and lack of fluoride exposure.

Many foods today contain large amounts of sugar or carbohydrates, and these “junk” foods have taken the place of healthier options. The American Dental Association reports that the average teenage boy drinks about 81 gallons of soft drinks per year! A much healthier option would be drinking water or milk. Water is not only good for dental health, but total body health as well.

Choosing healthy snacks such as apples, celery, carrots or other fruits and vegetables over candy, cookies and potato chips can also reduce the amount of sugar in the diet. You’re probably asking, why focus on all this sugar?

The mouth naturally contains bacteria that use the sugars in the food that we eat to produce acid. This acid can break down the teeth and cause the formation of cavities. Frequent snacking exposes our teeth to more frequent “acid attacks,” demineralization and puts our teeth at higher risk for the development of cavities.

When a child’s teeth first erupt, there are no bacteria in the mouth. The cavity-causing bacteria are usually introduced to the child from the parent through saliva-sharing behaviors such as sharing food or spoons. The bacteria then attach to teeth through a sticky substance called plaque. By avoiding some of these behaviors combined with good oral hygiene for the entire family (brushing twice a day and flossing daily), helps to limit the exposure to cavity-causing bacteria in children.

Cavities develop when the demineralization process due to “acid attacks” becomes greater than the repairing process, remineralization. Fluoride can help promote the remineralization of the tooth, protecting it from cavity formation. The simplest and most effective means to ensure your child receives the optimal amount of fluoride is to drink fluoridated bottled water available at installation commissaries or exchanges. Read the label to ensure you are purchasing water with a fluoride level of 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million. Your dentist is available to help you determine what source and amount of fluoride is best for your family here on Okinawa.

(Okinawa does not fluoridate public drinking water supplies.)

Remember, a healthy mouth is essential for a healthy mind and body.

Thompson is a dentist with 3rd Medical Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

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