Most parents are well aware of the importance of taking care of their children’s teeth, so it comes as a shock when they learn their toddlers have cavities during a checkup. Tooth decay among young children is on the rise—and many experts believe that sippy cups containing sugary beverages are responsible. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General has identified tooth decay as the most common childhood disease.
The Misuse of Sippy Cups
Because sippy cups prevent spills, they’re often used by children for long periods of time over months and years—rather than as a transitional drinking device, a purpose for which they were intended.
“Sippy cups were created to help children transition from a bottle to drinking from a regular cup, but they’re too often used for convenience,” says American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) President Philip H. Hunke, D.D.S., M.S.D. “When kids sip for extended periods on sugared beverages, they’re exposed to a higher risk of decay. Sippy cups should only contain water unless it’s mealtime.” In fact, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) comparing the dental health of Americans in 1988-1994 and 1999-2002 found that while cavities decreased among older children, cavities in two- to five-year-olds actually increased 15.2 percent.
A Child’s First Visit
Dr. Hunke views the misuse of sippy cups as just the symptom of a larger issue—the fact that many parents wait too long before taking their children to the dentist for the first time. The AAPD recommends that a child’s first dental visit occur shortly after the first tooth erupts and no later than the child’s first birthday. But according to the 2005 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSHC), only 10 percent of 1-yearolds and 23.8 percent of 2-yearolds had been taken for a preventive dental care visit in the past year. At the first visit, the pediatric dentist provides information about proper sippy cup use as part of the presentation of a complete program of preventive home care. The dentist also checks the child’s teeth to make sure they’re developing properly. “Studies show that children with poor oral health perform worse in school and have less success later in life,” says Hunke. “Establishing the right oral care habits early helps get kids headed on the path to a lifetime of good oral health.”
The Significance of Baby Teeth
Despite the fact that baby teeth are eventually replaced by permanent adult teeth, it’s important that they remain healthy and in place until they’re lost naturally since they serve several critical functions, including:
- Fostering good nutrition by permitting proper chewing;
- aiding speech development;
- helping permanent teeth by saving space for them; and
- creating self-esteem – a healthy smile helps children feel good about how they look to others.
Having the first dental visit in a pleasant environment before the onset of any tooth problems establishes trust and confidence in dental care in children that can carry over into adulthood. It both helps children feel good about visiting the dentist and encourages them to care for their own teeth. Dr. Bartholomew is not a pediatric dentist but has taken hundreds of hours of continuing education training in pediatric dentistry under experts such as Dr. Marvin Berman (Chicago, IL), Dr. Fred Margolis (Chicago, IL), and Dr. Paul Cassimosimo (The Ohio State University College of Dentistry). Because of his training and caring approach, Dr Bartholomew has a great rapport with his children patients and their parents. Since the introduction of the Waterlase MD laser into his practice the comfort level for kids has risen and parents are happier since the kids don't leave the office with a numb lip. Dentistry has never been easier for his patients.
In addition to regular dental visits, there are many things parents can do to help their children prevent tooth decay:
- Brush your child’s gums twice a day with a soft cloth or baby toothbrush and water even before the first tooth appears.
- Talk to your pediatric dentist about your child’s fluoride needs. Infants require fluoride to help developing teeth grow strong, and children who primarily drink bottled water may not be getting the fluoride they need.
- If you must put your child to sleep with a bottle, use nothing but water – other beverages can damage teeth, leading to cavities.
- Never dip a pacifier into honey or anything sweet before giving it to a baby.
- The best times for your child to brush are after breakfast and before bed.
- Limit frequency of snacking, which can increase a child’s risk of developing cavities.
- Take good care of your own teeth. Studies show that babies and small children can “catch” cavity-causing bacteria from their parents.
Source: American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry