Parents can take steps to help prevent childhood tooth decay

Capt. Aaron W. Engels
435th Dental Squadron pediatric dentist

Dental decay is the most common chronic infectious disease of childhood. It is five times more common than asthma. The risk of decay can be reduced with a few simple steps.

The main cause of tooth decay involves a bacteria called Streptococcus mutans. S. mutans attaches itself to teeth, feeds on sugars and carbohydrates, and produces acid which demineralizes the teeth and eventually causes decay. Children acquire this bacteria from adults through sharing utensils or cleaning a dropped pacifier with saliva. 

Frequent intake of sweetened beverages such as juice, soft drinks, and sports drinks keep the teeth bathed in sugar. This prolonged exposure to sugar creates an optimal environment for S. mutans to flourish and produce acids leading to cavities.

Carbohydrates are another source of fuel for this bacteria. Bread, crackers, cookies, etc. all break down into crumbs which can then get stuck on and between teeth. Without proper brushing and flossing, these substances help S. mutans attack and destroy the teeth.

However, fluoridated products provide hope. Fluoride can incorporate itself into the structure of the tooth, making it more resistant to decay. Areas demineralized by the S. mutans can be remineralized by the fluoride and stop the decay process. Talk to your dentist about fluoride needs for your child.
Make sure your child is seen at least yearly by a dentist. The dentist will evaluate your child’s oral health and assess his or her risk of developing cavities. Reduce or eliminate all drinks that contain sugar. A word of warning; diluted juices are just as harsh on the teeth as full-strength once when they are consumed throughout the day. 

Finally, take control. Children under the age of 7 are not capable of effectively brushing their teeth on their own. It is your responsibility as a parent to monitor their diets and assist with brushing.

Talk to your dentist about proper brushing techniques and ways to prevent tooth decay. We want all of our children to have happy and healthy smiles throughout their life.