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Dental Care for School-Age Children

Content provided by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry

A count down to dental health! Six steps can put your child in the 50% of school children who have never had a cavity:

  • Good home dental care
  • Fluorides
  • Sealants
  • Limited snacking
  • Mouth protection for sports
  • Regular visits to a pediatric dentist.

Children miss more than 750,000 school days each year as a result of dental problems and related conditions. Children in dental pain are distracted from their studies. Children with healthy teeth have better attendance and are more attentive in school. Here is how preventive dentistry can keep your child's smile healthy and attractive.

Preventive dentistry means a healthy smile for your child. Children with healthy mouths are more likely to be able to eat comfortably and get the sleep they need. A healthy mouth is more attractive, giving children confidence in their appearance. Finally, preventive dentistry means less extensive and less expensive treatment for your child.

Current Facts

  • 7% of US children aged 6 to 11 has never had the chance to visit a dentist.
  • Tooth decay is still the major cause of tooth loss in children.
  • One in five children aged 6 to 11 suffer from tooth decay in their permanent (adult) teeth.
  • 90% of all cavities are preventable.
  • According to research from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the average tooth brings in from $1 to $2 from the Tooth Fairy, although dentists around the country report that some children get as much as $20 a tooth.
  • Rituals from other countries when a baby tooth is lost include tossing the tooth over a roof, throwing the tooth to the sun, and leaving it to be collected by a small mouse.

Preventive Step 1: Good Home Care

  • Supervise your child's brushing, flossing and rinsing.
  • The best times to brush are after breakfast and before bed.
  • The best toothbrushes have soft, round-ended (polished) bristles that clean while being gentle on the gums.
  • Select a fluoride toothpaste accepted by the American Dental Association.
  • Encourage your child to floss at least once a day.
  • Supervise your child's flossing until age 10.
  • Children at high-risk for tooth decay are encouraged to use a fluoride rinse to help prevent cavities. Risk factors include a history of previous cavities, a diet high in sugars or carbohydrates, orthodontic appliances and certain medical conditions such as dry mouth.
  • Snack in moderation, no more than three or four times a day. Snacks should contribute to the overall nutrition and health of the child. Cheese, vegetables and yogurt are all nutritious snacks.

Preventive Step 2: Fluorides

  • Fluoride not only helps prevent tooth decay, slows the growth of decay, but can also cure cavities in their early stages. A healed cavity is stronger than the original tooth surface.
  • Water fluoridation is still the No. 1 way to prevent tooth decay. However, 30% of US communities do not have access to fluoridated water through their public water sources (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • If a child does not have access to adequately fluoridated water, a pediatric dentist can advise parents about other sources of fluoride, such as fluoride supplements.
  • The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends "an individualized patient caries-risk assessment before prescribing the use of supplemental fluoride-containing products." Also, the AAPD states that "significant cariostatic benefits can be achieved by the use of fluoride-containing preparations such as toothpastes, gels, and rinses, especially in areas without water fluoridation." Mouthrinses may be incorporated into a caries-preventive program for a school-aged child at high risk.
  • For children under two-years old, use a smear of fluoridated toothpaste for brushing. A pea-sized amount of toothpaste on the brush is plenty for children over two years of age for fluoride protection. Children should spit out, not swallow, the toothpaste after brushing.

Preventive Step 3: Sealants

  • Most cavities occur in places that sealants could have protected. Four out of five cavities in children under age 12 occur on the biting surfaces of the back teeth.
  • Children with just a single application of sealants on their back teeth had 50% less tooth decay and tooth restorations after 15 years than children without sealants.
  • The teeth most at risk of decay and therefore most in need of sealants are the six-year and twelve-year molars.

Preventive Step 4: Mouth Protectors in Sports

  • More than 200,000 injuries are prevented each year by wearing mouth protectors.
  • A mouthguard not only protects the teeth but may reduce the force of blows that can cause concussions, neck injuries and jaw fractures. A child should wear a mouth protector while participating in any activity with a risk of falls or of head contact with other players or equipment. This includes football, baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey, skateboarding, gymnastics and other sports and activities.

Preventive Step 5: Regular Dental Visits

  • Regular dental visits help children stay cavity-free. Teeth cleanings remove plaque build-up on the teeth. Plaque irritates the gums and causes decay.
  • Fluoride treatment renews the fluoride content in the enamel, strengthening teeth and preventing cavities.
  • It is essential to get an on-going assessment of changes in a child's oral health by a pediatric dentist. For example, a child may need additional fluoride, dietary changes, sealants, or interceptive orthodontics for ideal dental health.
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