Tooth Decay Prevention
Tooth decay is a progressive disease resulting from the interaction of bacteria that naturally occur on the teeth and sugars in the everyday diet. Sugar causes a reaction in the bacteria, which produce acids that break down the mineral in teeth, forming a cavity. Dentists remove the decay and fill the tooth using a variety of fillings, restoring the tooth to a healthy state. Nerve damage can result from severe decay and may require a crown, also known as a cap. A crown cover the tooth and makes it strong again. Avoiding unnecessary decay and costly treatment requires strict adherence to a dental hygiene regimen: brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, regular dental checkups, fluoride treatment and a healthy, balanced diet.
Sealants protect the grooved and pitted surfaces of the teeth, especially the chewing surfaces of back teeth. Even if your child brushes and flosses carefully, it is difficult, sometimes impossible, to clean the tiny grooves and pits on certain teeth. Food and bacteria build up in these crevices, placing your child in danger of tooth decay. Sealants “seal out” food and plaque, thus reducing the risk of decay.
The natural flow of saliva usually keeps the smooth surfaces of teeth clean but does not wash out the grooves and fissures. So the teeth most at risk of decay—and therefore, most in need of sealants— are the six-year and twelve-year molars. Many times the permanent premolars and primary molars will also benefit from sealant coverage. Any tooth, however, with grooves or pits may benefit from the protection of sealants. Talk to your pediatric dentist, as each child’s situation is unique.
The application of a sealant is quick and comfortable. It takes only one visit. The tooth is first cleaned. It is then conditioned and dried. The sealant is then flowed onto the grooves of the tooth and hardened with a special light. Your child will be able to eat right after the appointment.
If properly cared for, sealants can last for many years. Therefore, your child will be protected throughout the most cavity-prone years. If your child has good oral hygiene and avoids biting hard objects and food such as ice or hard candy, sealants will last longer. Your pediatric dentist will check the sealants during routine dental visits and recommend re-application or repair when necessary.
Remember that sealants are only one step in the plan to keep your child cavity-free for a lifetime. Brushing, flossing, balanced nutrition, limited snacking, and regular dental visits are still essential to a bright, healthy smile.
Fluoride is a compound that contains fluorine, a naturally occurring element. Using small amounts of fluoride on a routine basis can help prevent tooth decay. In areas where fluoride does not occur naturally, it may be added to community water supplies. Research shows that community water fluoridation has lowered decay rates by over 50 percent, which means that fewer children grow up with cavities. Fluoride can be found as an active ingredient in many dental products such as toothpaste, mouth rinses, gels and varnish.
Fluoride inhibits loss of minerals from tooth enamel and encourages remineralization (strengthening areas that are weakened and beginning to develop cavities). Fluoride also affects bacteria that causes cavities, discouraging acid attacks that break down the tooth. Risk for decay is reduced even more when fluoride is combined with a healthy diet and good oral hygiene.
The pediatric dentist considers many factors before recommending a fluoride supplement. Your child's age, risk of developing dental decay and dietary sources of fluoride are important considerations. Infant formulas contain different amounts of fluoride. Bottles, filtered and well waters also vary in the amount of fluoride they contain. Your pediatric dentist can help determine if your child is receiving - and not exceeding - the recommended amount.
Topical fluoride is a preventative agent applied to tooth enamel. It comes in a number of different forms. At our office, we use the newest technology, called fluoride varnish. Fluoride varnish is brushed the enamel and allows for a slow release of fluoride into the teeth. Compared to gels or foams placed in trays, more fluoride is incorporated into the teeth and less fluoride is ingested during application. It is especially useful for young patients, those with special needs and those who may not tolerate fluoride trays.
Children who benefit the most from fluoride are those at highest risk for decay. Risk factors include a history of previous cavities, a family history of cavities, poor oral hygiene, a diet high in sugar or carbohydrates, orthodontic appliances, and certain medical conditions such as asthma and dry mouth.
Good Diet and Healthy Teeth
A healthy diet is a balanced diet that naturally supplies all the nutrients your child needs to grow. A balanced diet is one that includes the following major food groups: fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, milk, meat & beans.
Children must have a balanced diet for their teeth to develop properly. They also need a balanced diet for healthy gum tissue around the teeth. Equally important, a diet high in certain kinds of carbohydrates, such as sugar and starches, may place your child at extra risk for tooth decay.
To ensure your child's diet is safe for their teeth, first, be sure they have a balanced diet. Then, check how frequently they eat foods with sugar or starch in them. Foods with starch include breads, crackers, pasta and snacks, such as pretzels and potato chips. When checking for sugar, look beyond the sugar bowl and candy dish. A variety of foods contain one or more types of sugar, and all types of sugar can promote dental decay. Fruits, a few vegetables, and most milk products have at least one type of sugar.
Sugar can be found in many processed foods, even some that do not taste sweet. For example, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich not only has sugar in the jelly, but may have sugar added to the peanut butter. Sugar is also added to such condiments as ketchup and salad dressings.
Your child does not need to give up all foods with sugar or starch as many of these foods provide nutrients you child needs. You simply need to select and serve them wisely. A food with sugar or starch is safer for teeth if it is eaten with a meal, not as a snack. Sticky foods, such as dried fruit, fruit snacks and fruit leather, are not as easily washed away from the teeth by saliva, water of milk. Therefore, they have more cavity-causing potential than foods more rapidly cleared from the teeth. Talk to your pediatric dentist about selecting and serving foods that protect you child's dental health.
Tips for your child's diet & dental health.
- Ask you pediatric dentist to help you assess your child's diet.
- Shop Smart! Do not routinely stock you pantry with sugary or starchy snacks. Buy fun foods just for special times.
- Limit the number of snack times; choose nutritious snacks such as cheese, fresh or frozen vegetables and fresh fruit.
- Provide a balanced diet, and save foods with sugar or starch for meal times.
- Do not put your young child to bed with a bottle of milk, formula or juice.
- If your child chews gum or sips soda, choose those without sugar.
- Avoid sticky sweet foods such as dried fruits like raisins and cranberries and processed fruit snacks or leathers.