Try swallowing this: The average American consumes almost 3½ pounds of candy over Halloween. And kids eat about 7,000 calories on Halloween.
Besides extra pounds and hyperactive energy, those sweet treats may lead to tooth decay. We talked with Laurence Stone, DDS, a dentist on the Doylestown Hospital medical staff, about kids and cavities and what parents can do.
Do Children's Cavities Start With the First Candy Bar?
The truth is that your child's teeth are at risk long before their first exposure to sugar. Tooth decay is actually the result of a bacterial infection, specifically lactobacillus. Infants are born without these cavity-producing germs but typically are infected by their mothers before the age of two through sharing utensils and toothbrushes.
Once infected, children will be prone to decay for the rest of their lives. Sugars and other starchy carbohydrates contribute to the problem because they are the bacteria's favorite food. Bacteria easily turn these foods into acids that eat away at the structure of the teeth by depleting calcium. Once the decay process destroys enough of the integrity of the tooth structure, it collapses, causing a cavity or hole in the tooth.
How Common Is Tooth Decay in Children?
It may surprise you to know that at least 4 million preschoolers (about 40% of all 2-5 year olds) suffer from tooth decay, making it the most common disease in children, affecting even more kids than asthma and diabetes!
Why Has There Been a Rise in Tooth Decay in Recent Years?
One of the reasons is the prevalence of high fructose corn (HFC) syrup used as a sweetener in most of our processed foods, including juices and sodas. HFC syrup can actually be more damaging to our teeth than other sugars. Sodas are particularly harmful because they are acidic to begin with and lower the pH of the saliva, making it even more acidic.
10 Tips to Better Dental Health for Kids
Find a Pediatrician
- Make sure your child has a dental check-up by the age of 1 as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) and has regular visits thereafter.
- Use fluoride supplements if your local water is not fluoridated. Your dentist or pediatrician can supply you with appropriate prescriptions.
- Limit exposure to sugar and starchy carbohydrates, especially around the holidays. And remember, it's not the total amount of sweets consumed, but the number of exposures to sweets throughout the day that matters most.
- Set a good example by practicing good oral hygiene, brushing and flossing regularly.
- Make sure your child brushes twice a day (after breakfast and before bed) for two minutes each time. Choose a child-size toothbrush with soft bristles and replace it every 3-4 months.
- Consider using Xylitol products. Xylitol is an all-natural sugar substitute. It comes from beech trees and other natural plant sources and is "non-nutritive" to the bacteria that cause decay. It is also completely safe. (Studies have even shown that expectant mothers that chew Xylitol gum give birth to children who have healthier mouths.)
- Never allow infants to sleep or toddlers to walk around with milk or juice drinks. This produces what dentists call "baby bottle tooth decay".
- Avoid toothpastes containing fluoride for children under the age of 2; they tend to swallow it. Use water or a non-fluoridated toothpaste.
- For children ages 2-6 years old, use a pea-sized amount of a fluoride toothpaste, and make sure they spit it out after brushing. Any more than that is wasted.
- And remember – when in doubt, ask your dentist. With proper guidance, most children should be able to graduate high school today with no cavities!
About Pediatric Services
Doylestown Health is committed to providing family-centered children's services to Bucks and Montgomery County communities. The Carol and Louis Della Penna Pediatric Center offers expert inpatient care to all ages including infants, children and teens. Della Penna Pediatric Center Services extend beyond the hospital setting to include health and wellness education, nutrition services and other support services.