Be Well, Marsha: 4/12/16

One tooth at a time

By Marsha Bonhart

“All I want for Christmas … “ Completing that popular little ditty is a request for two missing front teeth by the time Christmas comes. It can get tough when any word using the letter “s” sounds like a “whithpering whithle.” You never realize the great role your teeth play in your speech unless you are a 6- or 7-year-old. That’s the average age that the baby teeth drop to make room for the permanent adult teeth.

In the meantime parents, don’t think baby teeth aren’t important because “they’re going to be lost anyway.” Dentists say even before that first little ivory peeks beyond the gumline, it’s a good practice to start wiping the baby’s gums with soft gauze or a washcloth after each feeding.  At this stage, hold off on the toothpaste, but rub gently to get any food or drink items out of the way. You’re probably not going to get too much gum harm from bacteria in the mouth before the teeth break through, but start early to
get the baby used to the daily routine of getting oral care. This is a good practice to start before the daily brushing, so it’s a good idea to introduce tooth and gum hygiene early.

Once the teeth break through, a good baby toothbrush with a small, soft brush head is in order. Twice each day, use a small amount (just a smear) of fluoride toothpaste on the brush—you don’t want the child to get too much (the recommended amount for children under the age of 3 is 2.5 milligrams a day). Then, slowly brush inside and outside the teeth and the tongue.

WebMD warns caregivers that baby bottle decay can start at birth so never allow a baby to fall asleep with a bottle of juice or milk. Over time, frequent exposure to that habit can lead to cavities because sugar-filled liquids pool on the gum and the front teeth fall victim. If baby needs something to drink at naptime, make it water with added fluoride. This natural mineral is crucial to healthy tooth development because fluoride gives strength to tooth enamel. If your water provider doesn’t have enough or any supply of fluoride, your pediatrician can decide if and how much fluoride drops can be prescribed.

Studies show fluoride in community water systems prevents at least 25 percent of tooth decay in children and adults. But don’t neglect formula or breast milk for hydration. Research tells us children living in communities with fluoridated tap water have fewer decayed teeth than children who live in areas with non-fluoridated tap water. However, the other side of the fluoride story
is, too much of a good thing can lead to fluorosis. This is a condition that can lead to white spots on adult teeth.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, reports tooth decay is one of the most common chronic conditions of childhood in this country. If that condition goes untreated, the resulting pain and infections can lead to problems much more devastating than what happens in the
dentist’s chair.

The government health regulator also gives painful statistics: for children in the 5- to 11-year age group—one in five has at least one untreated decayed tooth. In the 12- to 19-year category, one in seven has at least one untreated decayed tooth. For lower income families the ratio is even higher. Tooth decay is at the top of the government’s chronic childhood illness list, which makes pediatric dental disease five times more common than asthma and seven times more chronic than hay fever. That same information gives us even more startling facts—that persistent decay creates problems with a child’s overall well being, resulting in problems learning and speaking, not to mention self esteem.

Here is what else we know from the non profit, America’s Tooth Fairy. An estimated 17 million children in this country go without dental care each year. More than 51 million school hours and 164 million work hours are lost each year because of dental disease and only 1.5 percent of 1-year-olds have had dental office visits.

The American Academies of Pediatrics and Pediatric Dentistry recommend you start taking your baby to a dentist within six months after the first tooth peeks through or maybe the first birthday, whichever happens first. Explain your family history of cavities or any problems the mother may have had during pregnancy. Also, try to serve dried fruit, juices, breads, crackers and pastas at mealtime instead of as snacks. These foods are magnets for cavities and mealtime servings versus snack time means there is less of a chance they won’t sit on the teeth too long. But of course, not to forget gum wiping before the first tooth and then soft brushing after will keep the cavity dragon away.

Be well,


Marsha Bonhart is a freelance writer and public relations/marketing consultant in the Dayton area. She can be reached at

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