Commentary by Capt. (Dr.) Matthew Nielsen
21st Dental Squadron
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Tooth decay is one of the most prevalent and preventable diseases among children. Unfortunately there are not a lot of children who are very worried about it or know what is causing it.
As a dentist, I look back at the way I took care of my teeth during my younger years and regret the mouth full of fillings I have now. I didn’t know what was causing the tooth decay and didn’t know how to prevent it. As a parent, I hope to prevent my kids from having this prevalent and preventable disease. Here are some tips for parents.
Start brushing your children’s teeth as soon as the first one comes in and continue to do so until they are at least seven years old. I say at least seven, but if at that age they are not doing a good job, keep brushing for them until they are old enough to care about their teeth.
It is a bit unrealistic to believe that as a parent you can cut out sugar from your children’s diet entirely. With that in mind, try to limit the number of times a day they consume sugary products. As far as your teeth are concerned, it is better to eat an entire cake at once, rather than eat it piece by piece throughout the day. This is true for juice or snacks as well. A child sipping on juice or eating crackers all day maintains their mouth in an acidic state for a prolonged period of time making them much more likely to get cavities. If the same juice or snacks were eaten within a few minutes, the acidic state of their mouth would only be for a short while, until their saliva brought the acidic level in the mouth back to normal levels.
Another thing I wish I had known or understood better as a kid is that dental fillings don’t last forever! They last anywhere from five to 10 years on average before needing to be replaced. The better you take care of them the longer they last.
Also, flossing isn’t to remove food from your teeth! Flossing does accomplish that, but the primary reason to floss is to remove the bacteria that cause tooth decay from between your teeth. If you bleed when you floss, it is because your gums are inflamed, which is due to the bacteria growing next to them. After flossing daily for a week or two, the inflammation will go away and it will not bleed or be painful to floss.
Finally, tooth decay is preventable! A good diet, brushing and flossing are all it takes to maintain a beautiful smile that will last a lifetime.
I hope you can learn from my experience and keep your teeth and your children’s teeth free from decay.