May 5, 2003 -- New kids' dental health guidelines focus on mothers. The idea is to keep moms from passing cavity-causing germs to their babies.
A growing realization that germs cause cavities is spurring the new kids' dental health rules from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Tooth decay is the most common infectious disease among children, note AAP pediatric dentistry chairman Paul A. Weiss, DDS, and colleagues. Their call to arms appears in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics.
"More than 40% of children have tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten," they write. "Decay of [baby] teeth can affect children's growth, lead to [overbite or underbite], and result in significant pain and potentially life-threatening swelling."
One in four babies is at particularly high risk of tooth decay. The highest-risk kids are 32 times more likely than other children to have cavities by the time they are 3 years old. These are infants who eat sugary food, whose families are financially strapped, and whose mothers have a low education level. But any child is potentially at risk. That's why the new kids' dental health guidelines strongly recommend that parents have a doctor or dentist find out their child's risk by the time they are 6 months old.
Just taking your baby to the dentist isn't enough. Most children get tooth decay germs from their mothers. So the new kids' dental health guidelines focus on what parents should do:
- Parents should brush thoroughly twice a day, in the morning and in the evening.
- Parents should floss at least once a day.
- Parents should use fluoride toothpaste.
- Parents should rinse their mouths every night with an alcohol-free mouth rinse with 0.05% sodium fluoride (also called NaF). Such rinses are commonly sold over the counter.
- Parents should see a dentist to have any cavities taken care of.
- Parents should avoid sharing utensils with children or cleaning child pacifiers with their saliva.
- Parents should chew xylitol chewing gum. When used four times a day, this gum cuts down on the number of tooth-decay germs carried in the mouth.
The guidelines also offer advice for improving kids' dental health:
- Brush the child's teeth -- twice a day -- as soon as they erupt.
- Floss between the child's teeth as soon as teeth contact one another.
- Don't let kids drink fruit juice except during meals.
- Don't let kids drink carbonated beverages.
- Don't put kids to bed with a bottle of anything except water.
- Clean infants' mouths with a damp cloth after feedings.
- Make sure kids drink fluoridated water. But check with your doctor or dentist before giving kids any products containing fluoride. Some of these products may be too strong for children.