Healthy teeth for kids: 3 pointers every parent should know
Back-to-school activities are in full swing. Amid shopping for supplies, selecting new clothes and ensuring immunizations are current, it can be easy for the condition of your kids’ pearly whites to get lost in the shuffle. Yet oral health has the potential to impact their success in school more than nearly any other health concern.
Parents can start with some simple preventive steps — fluoride toothpaste, fluoridated water and allowing fewer sodas and sticky, sugary snacks — so children are less likely to experience the pain or disruption of cavities. But dental health doesn’t stop at cavity prevention. With the hustle and bustle of the new school year often comes participation in contact sports, and protecting your child’s teeth is vital. Additionally, parents can do their part by being prepared for the unexpected dental emergency. A little bit of knowledge can go a long way in ensuring the best possible outcome when a child’s tooth gets knocked out or injured.
Consider the following pointers from faculty members at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry to make sure your child’s dental health is front and center this new school year.
1. Consider sealants
For long-lasting protection on the cavity-prone permanent molars and premolars, dental sealants are a great option. These thin, plastic coatings are painted on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth to shield their natural grooves and fissures from the bacteria that can cause cavities. Toothbrush bristles cannot fully reach inside these deep pits. Sealants should be applied as soon as the permanent molars fully emerge from the gums: between the ages of 5 and 7 and then between 11 and 14.
“Sealants are a cost-effective, noninvasive way to protect children while they are developing good oral health habits,” says Dr. Kathleen Pace, assistant professor of pediatric dentistry at Texas A&M Baylor College of Dentistry. “Many children even have access to sealants through their school’s partnership with a dental public health provider. When this is available, it’s a wonderful service.”
Texas A&M Baylor College of Dentistry offers such care through its school-based dental sealant program. Each year the college provides sealants for more than 10,000 Dallas schoolchildren.
Getting sealants is a simple, painless procedure. The American Dental Association’s MouthHealthy site advises that as long as the sealant remains intact, the tooth surface will be protected from decay. Sealants hold up well under the force of normal chewing and may last several years before reapplication is needed. Pace reassures parents that sealants are easily repaired if they become chipped or cracked.
According to the National Institutes of Health, however, less than one-third of children in the U.S. have sealants on their teeth.
2. Sports safety counts
Mouthguards are indispensable for sports players of all ages. Dr. Danette McNew, clinical assistant professor of general dentistry at the Texas A&M Baylor College of Dentistry, asserts they are important even for solo sports like bike riding and waterskiing. As an Olympic Team USA dental provider and sports dentistry veteran, McNew knows a thing or two about the protection that mouthguards offer.
“Custom mouthguards can be adapted for different sports because each calls for different protection,” McNew explains. “In football, linebackers clench down on their teeth because they are prepping to take blows, so you need thickness in the posterior chewing region. With basketball, it needs to be thicker in the front because those athletes are taking elbows to the face.
“That’s why a custom mouthguard made by your dentist is better than an over-the-counter version or one that you boil and then bite to fit around your teeth.”
3. Be prepared for a dental emergency
If your child’s permanent tooth gets knocked out, knowing in advance what to do can reduce stress for parents and children while allowing dentists to save the tooth. It is critical to act quickly and keep the tooth moist at all times.
When possible, Pace advises patients to try placing the tooth back in the socket without touching the root or scrubbing the surface. Biting on a cloth or towel can help keep the reinserted tooth in place.
“However, I caution parents to first be aware of where the tooth landed when it fell out,” Pace says. “You certainly don’t want to put it in your mouth if it’s covered with gravel or something like that.” The tooth can be rinsed gently under cold water for 10 seconds if needed.
Other options exist for keeping the tooth from drying out if it can’t be reinserted in the socket.
“A glass of milk, a special preservation solution such as Save-A-Tooth or your child’s own saliva in a cup can help save the permanent tooth, but in every case, it is important to get to the dentist’s office right away.”
Do not place a child’s baby tooth back into the socket because it might hurt a permanent tooth. Do make an immediate visit to the dentist whether the knocked out or damaged tooth was a baby tooth or a permanent one. Baby teeth are important not only for chewing but for saving space in the jaws for permanent teeth.
“Tooth trauma can be scary, but your child’s dentist will help see you through any dental emergency. Make sure your family members know who to call, whether it’s routine care or urgent,” Pace says.