Tooth decay is one of the most common chronic childhood illnesses and is five times more prevalent than asthma. "Far too many children suffer far too much dental disease, and it is overwhelmingly preventable," says Burton L. Edelstein, D.D.S., founding director of the Children's Dental Health Project in Washington, DC. Legislators are listening: A bill, the Children's Dental Health Improvement Act of 2002, aimed at increasing kids' access to dental services, has been introduced in Congress and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) in Chicago and other healthcare organizations.
What can you do to improve your children's dental health? Start by testing your knowledge and brushing up on your dental facts. This advice comes courtesy of the AAPD as well as the Chicago-based American Dental Association.
- When should your child have her first dental visit?
a. Between 6 and 12 months
b. When she turns 3 years old
c. When she loses her first baby tooth
d. When she gets a cavity
- How often should your child visit the dentist after that?
a. Every six months
c. Every other year
d. It's up to your dentist
- How much toothpaste do you think your child needs in order to brush effectively?
a. Enough to cover all the bristles
b. A drop the size of a pea
c. A quarter-size amount
d. A smear
- How often should you replace your child's toothbrush?
b. Every three months
c. Once a year
d. When it looks worn out
- You should supervise your child's brushing until...
a. he gets his first permanent teeth
b. he's 4
c. he's 6
d. he's 11
- To avoid permanent dental damage, at what age is it best for your child to stop sucking her thumb or using a pacifier?
- The drawback to using sippy cups is...
a. they can shift your child's teeth
b. they can cause tooth decay
c. they pick up germs easily
d. it's tough for most children to
stop using them
- What should you do if your drinking water isn't fluoridated?
a. Give your child flouride supplements
b. Have your child floss twice a day
c. Have your child brush only once a day to spare tooth enamel
d. Have your child use an electric toothbrush
- Which of the following best protects your child's teeth?
a. Wearing braces
b. Drinking bottled water instead of
c. Consuming foods and juices rich in calcium and fluoride
d. Eating smaller, more frequent meals
- A child should start flossing when...
a. he's 2
b. he's 4
c. his teeth begin to touch one another
d. he gets his first permanent teeth
- Around what age do children typically need braces and other dental appliances?
- a. The AAPD recommends that children see a dentist when their first tooth erupts or no later than their first birthday.
- a. Children should see the dentist twice each year. These early visits help dentists assess the feeding patterns and hygiene habits that may contribute to tooth decay and determine what preventive measures, if any, are needed.
- b. Some dentists say a smear is enough, but the official word from the AAPD is to use a pea-size amount of fluoridated toothpaste once your child is between 2 and 3. If you use more, she may swallow it; this can lead to fluorosis, which causes white spots and discoloration.
- b. As long as it's kept clean and dry between uses, your child's toothbrush only needs to be changed every three months or so. Choose one with a large handle, soft, rounded bristles, and a small head that reaches back teeth. Before teeth are present, clean gums with gauze, a washcloth, or a small soft-bristled toothbrush and water.
- d. Supervise your child's brushing until he's 11. Until he's 6 or 7, you should stand behind him and physically brush his teeth. After that, he can do it himself, but you'll need to make sure he's using the right amount of toothpaste, brushing for at least two minutes, and rinsing properly.
- c. By the time your child turns 4, her jaw starts to align; further thumb sucking can cause the upper teeth to tip toward the lip. For a child with several baby teeth, a pacifier can push the upper teeth out and lower teeth in.
- b. If your child regularly drinks from sippy cups filled with anything but water, particularly juice, he has a higher risk of baby bottle tooth decay, caused when sugars in the liquid combine with bacteria in the mouth to form acid that dissolves the immature enamel. Never put your child to bed with a sippy cup unless it contains water.
- a. Fluoride supplements are recommended for children between 6 months and 16 years of age who live in areas with no or low levels of fluoride in their water supply. (Your dentist can prescribe them.) To learn the amount in your municipal water supply, ask your utility company.
- c. Consuming calcium- and fluoride-rich foods and beverages is essential for strong, healthy teeth. Many juices, breads, and cereals are fortified with these nutrients. Check the labels to learn which ones are best.
- c. When your child should start flossing depends on when his teeth begin to touch -- that's when food can become trapped. If your child's teeth have visible spaces between them, flossing isn't necessary, says the AAPD.
- d. Believe it or not, some 2- and 3-year-olds are treated by orthodontists. But that's rare. The majority of children are closer to 10 or 11 when their dentist recommends seeing an orthodontist about wearing braces.
What's your score?
Give yourself one point for each correct answer. Then add your points to find out how you rate on dental awareness. If you totaled:
- 10-11 Congratulations. You sank your teeth into this quiz. You really know your stuff!
- 7-9 A refresher course will make you and your family all smiles. Visit the Dental Health Guide at www.keepkidshealthy.com for a list of tips and kids' books on dental health.
- 3-6 Chew on this: It's time to learn more about children's dental care. Start by downloading the AAPD's Parent Education Brochures at www.aapd.org/pediatricinformation/brochurelist.asp.
- Less than 3 Your family's dental health could be in serious trouble. Speak with a pediatric dentist to learn how to get on track. Why a pediatric dentist over one who treats adults? Because she's trained to recognize and treat oral health problems specific to infants and children. To find one in your area, call the AAPD at 312-337-2169.
Copyright © 2003. Reprinted with permission from the March 2003 issue of Child magazine.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.