Preventing Childhood Tooth Decay July 11 2008

Tooth decay is no laughing matter.Even though tooth decay is completely preventable it remains the single most chronic childhood disease.

A recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that 25% of preschool children have cavities. More than 50% of children from 5 to 9 years-years-of-age have at least one cavity or filling (increasing to 78% in children over 17-years-of-age).

Untreated tooth decay can lead to an infection or painful toothache and possible loss of teeth not to mention loss of classroom time for a child. Teeth help us to speak clearly, chew and digest food. A healthy smile can also improve overall appearance and boost confidence.

The causes of childhood decay are multi-faceted, beginning with access to care, particularly for economically disadvantaged children. One of every four children born in the United States is living below the poverty line and has severe and untreated tooth decay.

Contributing personal factors are an increased consumption of soft drinks, juices, processed snack foods and parents’ lack of knowledge.

What can be done to help prevent childhood tooth decay?

Brushing and flossing

    * Tooth brushing removes cavity-causing plaque and food particles from the teeth.
    * Daily dental cleaning should start as soon as the first tooth appears.
    * Wipe the teeth with a moist gauze or cloth. As more teeth erupt switch to a child’s toothbrush.
    * Around the age of 2, a small amount of toothpaste can be used during brushing.
    * Teeth should be cleaned both after breakfast and before bedtime.
    * Any 2 teeth that are touching each other should be flossed to prevent a cavity from forming between the teeth.
    * Children age 6 and younger may not have the strength and coordination to brush or floss properly and should be supervised by an adult.


    * Reducing sugar in the diet is the best way to prevent tooth decay. Avoid sugary foods and drinks as snacks between meals or bedtime.
    * Offer your child a well-balanced diet with a variety of healthy foods. Fruits, vegetables, cheese and milk are healthier snacks because they contain natural sugars. And of course, plain water is always a good choice.


    * Fluoride is a natural chemical that strengthens tooth enamel and reduces the incidence of tooth decay. Fluoride also helps repair early damage to teeth.
    * Many city water supplies have added fluoride. In these areas, tooth decay has been significantly reduced.
    * If your area does not have fluoridated water, or if your child’s teeth are more vulnerable to decay, your dentist or pediatrician may recommend extra fluoride in the form of drops, tablets or mouthwashes.
    * Toothpastes also contain fluoride. Because children tend to swallow toothpaste, use a pea sized amount on their toothbrush. Too much fluoride can cause fluorosis (spotting of the teeth).


    * A sealant is a plastic material that is usually applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (premolars and molars).
    * This plastic resin bonds to the deep pits and grooves or fissures of the teeth.
    * The sealant acts as a barrier, protecting enamel from plaque and acids that cause tooth decay.
    * Sealants are easy to for your dental professional to apply and usually only takes a few minutes per tooth.
    * As long as the sealant remains intact, they can protect the teeth for several years against decay.
    * Your dentist or hygienist will check the condition of the sealants at regular dental visits and can reapply them when necessary.

Dental visits

    * The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that infant oral care begin with prenatal counseling for parents.
    * A dental visit should begin within 6 months of the beginning of tooth eruption and no later than 1 year of age for a visual examination.
    * The dentist will be looking for signs of tooth decay and will also discuss oral hygiene techniques, diet and the need for fluoride with parents.
    * Your dentist or hygienist will recommend a routine check-up schedule that is suitable for your child.

Early education and intervention are necessary in preventing tooth decay. Educators can also play a key role in helping to prevent tooth decay by teaching students about good oral hygiene and health related topics. Research shows that a child is more likely to develop good health habits if they can develop it into their learning curriculum. Rookie Read-About Health series by Sharon Gordon is a readers series for your student that encourages good cleanliness habits while stressing the importance of prevention. My Food Factory, and Healthy Hurdles Nutrition Game are a fun way to learn about healthy eating habits and also support the national science standards for study of systems.

Teachers can find shared materials for children's oral health that is age appropriate. You can go to the American Dental Association website or your state dental association website to access more information.

Written by: Lu Ann Wells, RDH


    * Modern Hygienist, volume 3, number 12/December 2007 , Kids First: Lead
    * Dimensions of Dental Hygiene, July 2006, Starting Kids on the Path to Oral Health
    * Dimensions of Dental Hygiene, February 2006, The Sealant Soulution