Teeth and Your Child
THE incidence of dental decay in what is presumably the best fed nation in the world today staggers the imagination,” writes Dentist Samuel Dreizen in The Journal of School Health. “Less than 5% of the school age population in this country is spared the ravages of this disease.” To combat the ravages of dental decay, children need the help of their parents.
If you are a parent, what can you do to help your children in this regard? You can teach them things they should know about dental care. And it might well start with building up an appreciation for their teeth.
Designed for Long Usage
You can help your children to appreciate what a marvel teeth really are. Why, the enamel in teeth is the hardest substance in your body. From very hard substances such as some candy, nuts and crushed ice, to soft breads, cookies and cooked rice, teeth can take a lot of physical abuse. They also work under a wide range of temperatures, depending on what a person eats. At one meal they are likely to have a 180° F. beverage passed over them, and the next minute 20° ice cream. It is enough to make your teeth chatter!
These amazing teeth are able to last a long time for those who take good care of them. The Creator designed them that way, and it is good for children to know this. Much of the reason why people do not keep their teeth in later years of life has to do with their own neglect or that of their parents. You can truly do much to influence the development and maintenance of good, sound teeth in your children.
To help your children, it is well to know about tooth development. This can be divided into three phases: (1) The period during which the crown of the tooth is formed from tissue cells and calcifies or hardens in the jawbone; (2) the period of eruption, when the tooth first becomes visible and root development is in progress; and (3) the maintenance period, during which time the root formation is completed and the crown of the tooth is fully visible.
Most permanent teeth are from eight to ten years old before they are completely developed. During part of this time they are forming in the jawbone itself. Usually all the primary or baby teeth have begun to form while the child is still in the mother’s womb. As early as the second or third month of pregnancy, these primary tooth buds begin developing. Six-year molars, which are permanent teeth, start to form between the seventh intrauterine month and birth. From this time until about age three the crown grows to its adult size and is calcified.
Eruption of the tooth into the mouth usually takes place between the ages of six and seven, but the root of the tooth is not completely formed until the age of nine or ten. So think of it: Ten years in the making! You can see that they were designed to last a long time.
During this development period there is much that can be done to influence these teeth to grow into sound structures.
You can appreciate how much good nutrition plays a part in developing sound teeth if you keep in mind that up to half of the time the permanent teeth are developing, they are beneath the gum tissue in the jawbone. As has been shown by dental research, “the incidence of tooth decay, in particular, has been shown to be related to specific nutritional abnormalities that occur during tooth development.”
Teeth provide a permanent record of the past nutritional status of the individual. Yes, while teeth are developing, a lack of proper nutrient building blocks may cause some weakness in the final structure and this may allow the teeth to decay more readily.
Nearly all the primary teeth and some of the permanent teeth begin forming while the child is still in the mother’s womb. So, the mother needs good nutrition, perhaps even supplementing her diet with vitamins and minerals to assure this proper growth and development of not only the teeth but various tissues of the body as well.
After the child is born and begins eating for himself, the parental influence can and should be especially well directed. The time for developing sound eating habits is in the earlier years of life.
Included in the diet each day should be a good variety of basic foodstuffs, including foods from the various food groupings: proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Even though the foods that are eaten in various parts of the world will differ greatly, it is a good idea for parents to encourage their children to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Raw fruits and vegetables provide a variety of benefits that refined and processed foods many times cannot give. Not only do they provide good nutrition but they also encourage exercise of the teeth and gums because of their texture, which requires longer chewing. Be sure the child eats what is good for him and not just the things he likes.
There are other factors that influence the development of good teeth, such as heredity and disease. But over these you have little control, so your efforts need to be directed mainly in the areas where they will do the most good. Of course, there is no universal diet that will keep your child’s teeth decay-free throughout his life, but there are certain foods that are much better than others.
After the Teeth Erupt
Up until now we have mainly considered how to help your child to develop sound teeth. As the tooth begins its eruption into the mouth, its environment suddenly changes. Now it can be attacked by food and acid-forming bacteria; these can break through even very hard enamel and eventually cause a cavity. Some teeth can be so severely damaged that they have to be removed.
There are two apparent ways to combat the damaging effect of these acid attacks: Eliminate to a large extent the refined sugars and clean the teeth thoroughly.
Modern diets contain much of refined sugars and rapidly fermentable carbohydrates such as sucrose. These, in combination with certain strains of bacteria, can be very damaging to tooth structure. Dental investigators have come to appreciate that the eating of excessive amounts of such carbohydrates speeds up the progress of tooth decay. On the other hand, if the intake of refined foods is reduced or even eliminated from the diet of children, the decay rate is likewise slowed down or even stopped.
Some children are much more susceptible to cavities than others. The decay rate differs widely from child to child, but the fact remains that much of the decay problem is tied up with the intake of sweets.
An effective program for cutting down on the consumption of sweets begins with the parents. Parents who consume a large quantity of cookies, candies and cakes themselves will have a hard time convincing their offspring not to do the same. Children develop an appetite for sweets at an early age. If such foods are kept around the home all the time and are readily available, then poor eating habits will be the result. This does not mean that sweets have to be eliminated entirely. Proper cleaning after such snacks can also be an effective way to cut down on the cavities.
Usually a child can be taught to brush his teeth as early as two years of age and no later than three. Parental supervision, of course, is important. And it is a good idea for the parents to brush their teeth at the same time and thus set the proper example. This also encourages the child to keep toothbrushing a part of his daily routine.
After the child has had an opportunity to do his share, the parent may want to go over the teeth again to be sure a thorough job has been done. Areas of special concern at that age are the tops or biting surfaces of all the back or molar teeth.
The cheek and tongue sides of those teeth, near the gumline, are frequently areas that decay because they are not brushed properly. Food particles are allowed to build up, causing a white ring around the teeth in this area. Even after the food material is removed, the acid from the food and bacteria may leave a white ring in the enamel as evidence of decay activity. Proper toothbrushing can do much to prevent this from happening.
It takes practice and a lot of effort to do a thorough job in cleaning the teeth with a toothbrush. By the age of three a child usually has twenty primary or baby teeth in the mouth. Each of these teeth has five surfaces that need to be cleaned. That amounts to one hundred tooth surfaces that need attention. In the permanent set of teeth, there are 32 teeth or 160 surfaces to keep clean. Think of that the next time you pick up your toothbrush!
Toothbrushing is probably the most widely practiced method of cleaning the teeth. Brushing in any old way is not good enough. There are several methods advocated by the dental profession.* As has been stated in the November 1969 Journal of the American Dental Association, “Effectiveness of oral hygiene procedures is more a matter of technique and effort than of materials used.” You can improve on your technique, as well as the amount of effort you put into the cleaning of your teeth, with practice.
Any supplementary methods for cleaning teeth, such as the use of dental floss or tape, toothpicks and interdental stimulators should be done before brushing, especially if a medicated dentifrice is used. To do the most good, these cleaning agents need to reach the teeth.
Dental floss is probably more effective than any other method for cleaning between the teeth. Because it can be drawn down gently in between the teeth, it can dislodge food particles and debris that a toothbrush would never reach. This is important because most tooth decay and periodontal disease start between the teeth. Flossing should be followed with vigorous rinsing to wash away the loosened particles. If this procedure is followed up with a thorough brushing of the teeth and gums, the mouth will feel refreshingly clean.
There will be times when a person is caught without his toothbrush and toothpaste. When this happens, one can use a clean, rough washcloth to accomplish an emergency cleaning. Mouth rinsing will also help to a certain extent when no other method is available.
Decayed areas will show up as small dark-colored areas in the grooves and crevices on the biting surfaces. They also appear as dark-gray areas between the teeth. In these little cracks and fissures, food is sometimes packed and can be difficult to remove. As the bacteria in the mouth begin to act on it, an acid substance is produced. This acid is what does the damage. Of course, it takes several acid attacks eventually to break through the outer enamel surface. Once it makes its way into the inner tooth structure, the dentin, this process proceeds much more rapidly, as the dentin is much softer.
So the time to stop the process is before it starts, by removing food particles, especially the carbohydrates, from the teeth quickly. This means teaching children to brush after snacks as well as after meals.
Brush any suspicious areas very thoroughly. If the area is still dark or discolored after careful brushing, a trip to the dentist is in order. The smaller the cavity when discovered, the simpler the repair will be.
Age three is a good time for your child’s first visit to the dentist whether you see cavities or not. Usually by this age all the primary teeth (twenty) are fully erupted into the mouth and need regular care to remain healthy.
Each primary tooth is actually holding space needed for the permanent tooth that is developing in the jawbone underneath it. If the primary tooth is lost due to decay or other factors before the permanent tooth is ready to erupt, then the teeth tend to crowd together. Thus there may not be enough room for the permanent tooth.
Much expensive tooth-straightening work can be avoided by helping your children to keep all primary teeth as long as they were intended to be there. This is also true of the permanent teeth. If one is lost, it is wise to have it replaced. Of course, you can get along without a replacement, but the missing tooth eventually causes other problems, such as teeth shifting out of proper position or alignment, causing food to pack in between.
So, there are many factors in developing and maintaining sound teeth. Some of these factors you can control. Why not teach your children proper care of their teeth from an early age? Later on, they will be most grateful.
For details on effective brushing see Awake!, October 22, 1968, p. 10.