Dental caries (tooth decay) is the most common disease in preschool children. ECC (Early Childhood Caries) affects close to ¼ of all American children ages 2-5, and is due to a combination of factors, including bacteria in the mouth, frequency of exposure to foods that promote those bacteria, and susceptible teeth. Some children are predisposed to tooth decay, but diet changes can be key to lessening the effects.
The Root of the Problem – the Sweet Tooth
Caries in children is more likely if sugary foods and beverages are a regular part of their diet and sucrose (table sugar) is the most damaging. Untreated decay in a child’s primary teeth increases the likelihood of dental problems in their permanent (adult) teeth.
Healthy Diet, Healthy Teeth
Limiting sugar intake benefits teeth health as well as general health so be sure to make it a priority at home. To help reduce their children’s risk of tooth decay, parents should promote a healthy routine starting at a young age, specifically:
- Limit consumption of juice or other sugar-containing drinks, especially from a bottle or sippy cup
- Discourage sleeping with a bottle
- Restrict sugary snacks like candy, lollipops, cough drops, etc.
- Promote healthy snacks
Proper Oral Hygiene Has to Start Young
In addition to reducing dietary risk factors, parents should encourage oral hygiene, to help prevent tooth decay. Make sure children are brushing with fluoride toothpaste, using fluoride rinses, and have regular dental checkups. It can be difficult to get young children to understand the importance of teeth brushing, so try to make it fun. Consider buying a toothbrush in their favorite color or making it into a game, offer stickers for every week of diligent teeth cleaning.