What Parents Should Know about Children's Oral Health Care

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Common myths every parent should know about their children's oral health care.

Like many areas of the body, a person’s mouth is teeming with bacteria, most of them harmless. Normally the body’s natural defenses and good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, can keep these bacteria under control. However, without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.

As a parent it is up to you to take your child’s oral health seriously. Here’s the truth behind some common myths about children’s dental hygiene,.

It’s okay to share utensils and cups with your children while eating. Parents should always use a separate utensil or cup when eating with their child. Recent studies have shown that young children can get cavities from Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria that passes from person to person through the transfer of saliva, such as sharing utensils and cups. A 2008 study in Pediatric Dentistry pointed to mothers as the primary source of the bacterial colonization of their children.

Blowing on food is the best way to cool down your child’s meal. This is one way Streptococcus mutans bacteria is transferred to children’s mouths.

Sugar eats tooth enamel, causing cavities. The true culprit is the acid produced by bacteria in the mouth, which converts sugar into enamel-eroding acid. Tooth enamel does not grow back, and once destroyed exposes sensitive dentine to decay. Cutting back on sugary foods provides less fuel for bacteria, and brushing and flossing regularly are vital to keep bacteria and cavity counts low.

You don’t need to worry about cavities in baby teeth. Baby teeth hold the space for permanent teeth. Tooth decay in baby teeth can result in damage to the developing crowns of the permanent teeth growing below them. If baby teeth are lost prematurely, the permanent teeth may erupt mal-positioned and require orthodontics later on. Untreated cavities in baby teeth can cause serious pain and develop into abscesses. Occasionally the infection can spread to other areas of the body, and in rare occasions can even result in death.

Anita Duhl Glicken, MSW, is the president/CEO of the nccPA Health Foundation and is project leader of the National Interprofessional Initiative on Oral Health (NIIOH) Physician Assistant Initiative, which is leading the oral health charge among primary care providers, such as certified physician assistants who are often on the frontlines of oral health emergencies, education and prevention.

Published: October 2013