Employee & Community Health

Start children early for a lifetime of good oral health

4/13/2016 by Dr. Valeria Cristiani

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Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children - and it's totally preventable. Dr. Valeria Cristiani offers these tips to parents for preventing tooth decay and promoting good oral health for a lifetime: 

Reduce sugary drinks, snacks 

  • Anytime access to sugary drinks such as juices or sodas from a bottle or sippy cup can cause decay. 
  • Offer healthy snacks such as fruit slices or veggies. 
  • Avoid nighttime feedings with breast milk or formula after your baby is 4 or 6 months old. 

Start prevention early

"Parents often wonder why they should take their baby to the dentist when they only have one or two teeth," says Dr Cristiani, "but by age two, 15% of children can have cavities and by age four, that soars to 25-30%."

  • Take your child to the dentist after the first tooth emerges, or by their first birthday. 
  • Brush their teeth twice a day after the first tooth. This is one of the most important things parents can do to promote healthy teeth for life. For children under age three, use a toothbrush and apply fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice to their teeth. After age three, increase the amount of toothpaste to a pea-size. 

Avoiding sugary snacks and drinks and brushing regularly applies to parents, too. Studies have found that children whose parents have cavities are more likely to have tooth decay. 

New preventive service from primary care provider

Unfortunately, many children don't have access to dentists. But new recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and American Academy of Pediatrics provide children with a decay-preventing treatment during well-child visits with their primary care providers. 

The treatment, for children birth to six years of age, is a fluoride varnish. A tiny amount of the bubblegum-flavored varnish is painted on each tooth. It dries right away, and brushing isn't recommended until the next day. 

The varnish prevents cavities from happening. If a cavity is at the first "white spot" stage, the varnish can stop the decay from progressing, and it may even disappear. However, if a cavity has reached the "brown spot" stage, the child must see a dentist. 

"We're already applying varnish in the pediatric residency clinic at Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine," Dr. Cristiani says, "but in the near future, this preventive treatment will be available throughout Employee and Community Health (ECH) and Mayo Clinic."

Dr. Valeria Cristiani is a pediatrician with Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. She co-chairs the Olmsted County Children's Oral Health Task Force and also is a member of the Minnesota Oral Health Coalition, a nonprofit group that supports oral health around the state.