A healthy set of childhood teeth often sets the foundation for perfect permanent teeth. And good oral health contributes to a healthy smile! Tooth decay – what one would describe as the child’s teeth turning black – is caused by plaque. Plaque is a sticky, colourless film that forms over the teeth. It contains bacteria, and when these bacteria mix with carbohydrate-rich foods, it creates an acid that eats away at the tooth. If left untreated, a severely decayed tooth can become loose and fall out.
With children today being forced to spend an increasing amount of time indoors, the temptation to nibble on snacks is high. The diet-tooth health link boils down to eating a nutrient-dense meal as opposed to a simple-carbohydrate meal. Regularly and continuously feeding your child foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates (chocolates, jam, honey, cakes, doughnuts, and the like) can contribute to “tooth rot” because these foods cling to the teeth.
The sugar in these foods also feed bacteria, and the more bacteria in your child’s mouth, the more acid in his/her mouth too. This, in turn, will cause a breakdown of the protective tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay. Brushing a child’s teeth only twice a day is not protection against the bacteria build-up that happens every time she eats a sugar-rich food; for example, eating a slice of cake at 10 a.m. or 4 p.m. and brushing at 9 p.m. (bedtime) is definitely not protective against the bacteria that has been building up on his/her teeth right from the time she has begun eating his/her cake 5 or 11 hours earlier!
What you need to definitely do is ….. limit the amount of sweet or sticky foods your child eats. Remember that sugar lies hidden in most processed and packaged foods, which may otherwise appear innocuously ‘salty’. Ask your child to brush his/her teeth after every meal, and teach him/her to use his/her tongue to clean food immediately off his/her teeth after a meal. Drinking water by swirling it around in his/her mouth or gargling every time s/he has eaten some food are other ways of decreasing the bacterial load in his/her oral cavity.
Consuming too many acidic drinks (carbonated beverages and juices) and having acid reflux disease (recurrent regurgitation of food following a meal) can also cause tooth decay. The acid in beverages can slowly dissolve tooth enamel. With acid reflux, stomach acid flowing back into the esophagus and mouth can also erode tooth enamel.
Allow your child to consume sweetened beverages, including juices, only during meals or not at all. Unhealthy eating habits, such as sucking on candy for prolonged periods, can also cause tooth decay. Sipping on sugary drinks and sweetened milk, instead of quickly drinking it, increases the amount of time during which teeth are exposed to decay-causing sugars from the drinks, thus elevating the chances of tooth decay. Also, if your child’s salivary glands do not produce enough saliva to help wash away plaque and bacteria in his/her mouth, there will be more plaque and acid in his/her mouth, thus increasing the risk of tooth decay or rot.
The advice of a dentist can be sought on this matter, or simply make sure that your child increases his/her water consumption through the day.
Nutritionally, a deficiency of the mineral fluoride can also cause dental caries. Fluoride is a natural mineral that can strengthen tooth enamel, making it resistant to cavities. Fluoride is added to public water supplies, and toothpaste, today, are mostly fluoridated too. Shellfish, grapes, and potatoes are dietary sources of fluoride; make sure your child eats a lot of these natural fluoride-rich foods.
Deep dental crevices are another reason for tooth decay. These grooves can make it harder to brush effectively, and if plaque settles in these grooves, it can eat away at the tooth’s surface. This issue is best discussed with a dentist.
Transmission of acid-producing bacteria from parents (or others) by sharing saliva on spoons or cups, can also be the cause of tooth decay in children. And finally, do remember that the best times to brush teeth are after breakfast (not before) and after dinner. Follow the suggestions, and I’m sure you’ll be able to salvage what’s left of your child’s shiners!!!!