Tooth decay: A preventable infectious disease

Today’s guest blogger is Constance M. Killian, DMD, a national spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). She is in private practice in Doylestown, an adjunct associate professor of pediatric dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania, and is an attending pediatric dentist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

It’s a little known fact, but tooth decay is a major epidemic among children in the U.S. – five times more common than asthma – and it is 100 percent preventable. In this article, I’ll share some misconceptions about oral health and outline common habits gone wrong that can contribute to tooth decay.

Debunking the myths
At my pediatric dentistry practice and when I talk to schools and professionals, I encounter many misconceptions about pediatric oral health. A recent survey commissioned by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry revealed 50 percent of respondents believe bad teeth are genetic. The fact is that regardless of genetics, tooth decay is 100 percent preventable.

Another myth, believed by nearly three-quarters of those surveyed, is that adult teeth are more important than baby teeth. The reality is that children with tooth decay affecting their baby teeth at a young age are at greater risk for developing problems with not only their oral health, but also their overall health. Most people don’t realize that tooth decay makes a child more vulnerable to life-threatening infections in other parts of the body, such as the ears, sinuses and brain. Tooth decay is one of the top chronic infectious diseases among children in the U.S., posing an immediate and long-term threat to the teeth of young children, impacting their overall health as well as their social and educational development.

Common dietary habits gone wrong
As a parent, I know that many people pass along a wide range of advice when it comes to taking care of our children. However as a pediatric dentist, there are a few simple truths that, quite simply, can save your child’s teeth. First, you’ll want to provide a balanced diet for your child and save sugary and starchy foods for designated snack and meal times (not lingering snacks or “grazing”). Your pediatric dentist will be happy to help you assess your child’s diet and offer pointers. A  big no-no is putting your young child to bed with a bottle of milk, formula or juice. Drinking anything but water before bed will promote plaque (the sticky substance containing cavity-forming bacteria) to stick on teeth all night.

Also, make sure you shop smart. Keep plenty of healthy and tooth-friendly foods and snacks on hand, such as carrots, apples, and cheese. These foods are not only good for your child, but also help remove bacteria from the teeth between brushing. After your child has a sugary treat, make sure they swish their mouth with water, chew gum with xylitol, or eat one of the tooth-friendly snacks mentioned above. 

More information
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month – a great time to build healthy habits for good oral health!  Check out this article by Edward Moody, DDS, pediatric dentist and past president of the AAPD, on the importance of establishing a dental home for your child and tips on good oral health. For more resources and information on your children’s oral health, visit the Mouth Monsters section of the AAPD website.

 

 


 

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