Dinner is over, it is time to start the bedtime routine so that hopefully you can get the kids down with enough time to clean up and get to bed at a decent hour. Pajamas go on very easily because they love their footie pajamas. Stories happen even easier, because who doesn’t love a good story. Then comes the dreaded tooth brushing. Our one and a half year old already knows that the toothbrush is a sign to try to run away as fast as she can. As a loving parent, you know that the brushing teeth is going to happen no matter what because it is for their own good. A wrestling match ensues and after a minute or two of kicking, screaming, hitting and fighting you emerge victorious. The teeth have been cleaned and you are going to be so proud when your child has zero cavities at their next dental visit. You smile that you have had at least one parenting victory for the day. At least this is how things go in our mind.
Then at their next dental visit, the dentist tells you that your child has cavities. You think, ”How can this be? We wrestle every morning and night to get those teeth clean.” Many parents think that if they clean their child’s teeth they should be cavity free. What you may not know is that there are multiple components beyond hygiene that affect the development of tooth decay.
Tooth decay is caused by a disease known as caries. Caries is caused by acid removing minerals from the tooth structure. The source of this acid can be dietary (low pH foods such as soda pop, sour candies, vinegar salad dressings) or it can be produced when bacteria present in the mouth metabolize fermentable carbohydrates or sugars.
Interestingly, babies are born without the bacteria that causes this disease. This common bacteria (streptococcus mutans) is transferred by sharing saliva with someone who already has the bacteria growing in their mouth and an infant can contract this bacteria before their first tooth develops. This means that many of the acts that a caregiver performs as selfless acts of love can start the tooth decay process. For example, you put your baby‘s food to your mouth first to be sure that the food will not burn them. While risking burning your mouth is most definitely selfless, it is also a good way to spread the bacteria that causes caries and start the process of tooth decay.
Just like many other forms of disease, bacteria play a primary role in the development to tooth decay.
Avoid the follwing to help prevent sharing oral bacteria with your child:
-Placing your child’s pacifier in your mouth.
-Eating from the same spoon or sharing food
-Any other activities in which you may pass saliva to your child
Research has shown that the longer your child can go without this bacteria, the more likely they will be to avoid tooth decay or minimize tooth decay in their younger years. Combining these habits with regular good oral hygiene, limiting snacking on sticky sugary foods and regular oral health evaluations by your dentist (starting at age 1) can lead to reduced tooth decay in your child.
Dr. Drew Bitter is a practicing dentist at Oxford Dental Care located in Idaho Falls, ID.
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