After the slew of bad news emanating from a Center for Disease Control and Prevention report on the increase of cavities in baby teeth for preschoolers, it was a relief to read that the general oral health of kids aged 6-11 has improved markedly over the past 15 years.
According to the report, tooth decay in the permanent teeth of children ages 6 to 11 dropped to 21 percent, from 25 percent. Tooth decay in youths ages 12 to 19 dropped to 59 percent, from 68 percent.
This reduction in cavities may be at least partly due to the growing prevalence of dental sealants, a plastic coating applied to teeth that protects against decay. Sealants can be safely used on permanent teeth and baby teeth that have natural pitting or weakness due to birth defects. About 38 percent of children and teens ages 12 to 19 had dental sealants, based on recent surveys from the American Dental Association (ADA).
Keep It Going
The hardest challenge for parents is to keep your grade schooler’s healthy habits in place so they are ingrained habits as they grow into their tween and teen years. Always have a pantry full of healthy snacks and plenty of fresh fruit in view. Have carrot and celery sticks ready to eat in clear, easy-to-see containers in the fridge. Serve milk or soymilk with meals and don’t buy soda, sports drinks or other sugary beverages.
Encourage more outdoor activities and less TV and computer time. Multiple studies have shown that the more TV watched by grade schoolers and tweens, the more sweets, soda and fast food they’re likely to consume (and the less likely they are to eat fruits and vegetables). Heavy media users are also much more likely to skip breakfast (and morning brushing).
As grade schoolers grow and head into middle school, a slew of bad habits can start creeping into their daily routine that have a negative effect on oral health. Here are some things to help your child steer clear of.
Citrus juices and sports drinks
These beverages can cause serious damage to teeth, and it’s not just because of the sugar—it’s the acid. Citric and ascorbic acid in these drinks eat away at enamel. Kids in after-school sports seem to receive a never-ending supply of these drinks. Let your kids know that water is the best way to hydrate.
If your kid likes to crunch ice for fun or out of a nervous habit, get them to stop! Chewing ice, as harmless as it may seem, can lead to microfractures in teeth, which become easy conduits for bacteria to enter and linger, causing cavities.
Drinking only bottled water
Once you teach your child that plain water is the best way to hydrate, make sure they drink fluoridated tap water. If they are only drinking filtered bottled water, they will be missing out on extra fluoride for their growing teeth.
Dieting and eating disorders
The terrifying new truth is that girls as young as 8 and 9 years old are being diagnosed with eating disorders. So many oral problems can arise from disordered eating, from a lack of calcium due to malnutrition, to binges on high-carb foods, to purges, which bathe tooth enamel in stomach acid. Be aware of your children’s eating habits and model good eating behavior.
Keep your grade schoolers teeth strong and healthy by encouraging healthy habits. So much of what your kids do is an emulation of what you, as parents, do in your everyday life. Modeling a healthy lifestyle will encourage great oral health for your kids and will shape their oral hygiene habits that last a lifetime.