Healthy Teeth Don’t Take Vacations
Whether it be a holiday break or summer vacation, time off from school creates a unique challenge for maintaining a child’s dental care regimen. Children are especially susceptible to the pitfalls that accompany these school breaks, likely because they may lack the self-discipline needed to continue a consistent dental hygiene program. Here are several ways to protect and preserve your children’s teeth when your family is away on vacation.
- Stay up-to-date with your dental visits. Coming in for regular checkups right up until vacation ensures that you and your children are aware of any oral health issues and gives you an opportunity to put a plan in place that addresses them under the guidance of a dental professional.
- Stick to your routine. Your children have strong teeth because they maintain a consistent regimen; make sure they don’t stop this just because your family is away from the comforts of home. Dental cleaning and care are always imperative and require firmness on your part as a parent. Any changes in brushing can have an adverse effect on the teeth, potentially starting the weakening process. Use downtime to your advantage—rest stops, airplane bathrooms or grandma’s house all provide useful opportunities to brush and floss.
- Bring a complete dental kit. You can buy most oral care products in travel sizes nowadays, so pack a full kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and fluoride rinse) in your suitcase.
- Provide nutritious snacks. The biggest challenge will likely involve your child’s diet. On vacation, there is a greater tendency to eat larger quantities of sugary and sticky foods that cling to the teeth’s enamel for extended periods. The best option for the road is to provide wholesome snacks, such as baby carrots and sliced apples.
- Drink water. This is a simple solution. Water contains no sugar and washes away some of the lingering acids and food particles in the mouth.
Finally, enjoy your vacation! With proper care and planning, you should be able to eat delicious foods and prevent cavities. Just a little bit of discipline and your family will be good to go.
Keeping Your Toothbrush Clean and Germ-free
The human mouth is like a petri dish filled with various bacteria. They live on the teeth, gums, cheeks and even the ridges of the tongue. The reason is simple: The mouth is the ideal environment for them to grow. The bacteria that develop and thrive are anaerobic, preferring warm, dark, moist, low-oxygen places. When you brush your teeth, these bacteria jump onto your toothbrush. Thus, you may unknowingly create a setting that fosters bacterial progression.
A person cannot claim to practice optimal oral hygiene if his or her toothbrush is not clean. Bacteria, mold and food particles on the brush impede proper dental health and fresh breath. Here are four ways to reduce bacteria on your toothbrush:
- Store your toothbrush in an upright position exposed to open air. This allows it to dry properly, eliminating the moisture bacteria prefer. If possible, store it near sunlight to take advantage of the sun’s natural disinfecting power. One last point on storage (and we hope it’s fairly obvious): Keep it away from the toilet.
- Change your toothbrush at least once every three to four months as recommended by the American Dental Association. Once the bristles become worn or ragged, replace the brush.
- Rinse your toothbrush with warm water both before and after brushing. Take the opportunity to run your thumb across the bristles to loosen up food particles and airborne bacteria.
- Soak your toothbrush in a hydrogen peroxide mixture or antibacterial mouthwash for 10 minutes once a week.
Realistically, a toothbrush will never be 100% free of bacteria. However, it is possible to significantly diminish the amount of bacteria by employing the steps above. A little extra time spent taking care of your toothbrush affords you and your children clean, top-notch teeth and gums.
A String of Reasons to Floss
It seems like just yesterday when your child couldn’t even handle a spoon properly, doesn’t it? Or maybe it was just yesterday. You may be surprised then to learn that even small, not-quite-coordinated hands should get acquainted with dental flossing—with supervision, of course, from mom or dad. Flossing is very important; when done correctly, flossing reaches the 35% of tooth surfaces that brushing cannot clean. How and when should you introduce flossing to your child?
Begin to familiarize your child with flossing by age 2 years, or as soon as he or she has two teeth that touch. For encouragement, emphasize how grown-up your child is when he or she keeps a healthy mouth by flossing every day. Make a dedicated effort (favorite room, accompanying toys, background music, etc.) to ensure that flossing is a positive experience.
By age 10, your child will probably have the dexterity to floss without assistance. Until then, work together as a four-handed flossing team, eventually working yourself down to just a supervisor.
Correct flossing doesn’t just cover technique; it means using the right floss for your child’s teeth. What should you choose?
- Dental tape is gentler, wider and flatter than most traditional flosses and is good for relatively widely spaced teeth.
- Waxed floss gets between tightly spaced teeth with its designed-to-glide coating.
- Prethreaded floss picks come in different colors, so allowing your child to choose among them may give him or her a sense of control over the process—while having fun, too. Also, picks are typically easier to manipulate than wrapped-around-the-fingers floss.
- Floss threaders are often the best option for children with braces because they effectively navigate odd crevices. Simply insert your chosen floss into the loop of the threader before using it.
Flossing is an important habit to instill and enforce, so we encourage you to reward your child for consistency—not with food treats but with special outings, for instance, to sporting events, a movie or the park.
Experience has taught us that children often take flossing lessons more seriously when they come from dental professionals rather than from their parents (sorry, mom and dad!). We look forward to helping your child learn this critical self-care technique that will lead to lifelong dental health.
Smoothies That Promote Good Teeth
Parents seeking a healthy beverage option for their children may choose a smoothie over a soda or other sugary drink. Unfortunately, although commercially available smoothies may have fewer additives, their sugar content may rival that of a can of soda. Luckily, there are nutritious—and tasty—smoothies that parents can offer that may actually improve their children’s oral health.
Keeping sugars and acids to a minimum is key, as is maintaining a regular oral hygiene routine that includes brushing and flossing. That said, smoothies made with the following ingredients are your best bet:
- Yogurt. These dairy-based products provide calcium, which builds and strengthens teeth (just remember to use low-sugar yogurts).
- Fruits low in sugar. Berries tend to work best if you have potential dental/oral issues. Otherwise, feel free to add apples, pears or bananas. These fruits offer sweetness along with vitamins that are good for oral and overall health.
- Cranberries. Although we mentioned fruit already, cranberries fall within a special category, because fresh cranberries or unsweetened cranberry juice contain compounds that block the growth of bacteria on the teeth.
- Coconut oil. An edible oil with potent antibacterial properties, coconut oil has the ability to lessen the growth of bacteria and lower the occurrence of cavities and infections.
- Tea. Green and black teas have a vast number of antioxidants that positively affect general well-being. They also contain polyphenols, which can slow the growth of bacteria associated with cavities.
One thing about these smoothie ideas: You may need to make them from scratch. That means added effort on your part to offer these delicious, natural alternatives to your children. Still, you can then be confident that the smoothies you hand your children promote oral health instead of contributing to those dreaded cavities. And remember, whether you go with a nutrient-rich option or not, a daily oral hygiene regimen is needed to ensure an A+ smile.
Baby Food—The Beginning of Lifelong Oral Health
How does introducing solid foods to your baby affect his or her future oral health? We have two overarching concerns. One is nutrition: Starting your child on the right solids promotes a lifelong openness to nutritious, tooth-strengthening foods. The other is sugar: Limiting it drastically reduces the urge to consume decay-promoting sugar throughout childhood and adulthood. Sugar is no friend to teeth or any body part. How can you start your baby on a path to good eating?
- Make eating enjoyable. Let your baby have fun with the earliest solids you offer. Yes, most of it will end up everywhere except for his or her mouth, but you want your child to associate food with experimentation and new, exciting tastes and textures. This early introduction could potentially prevent your child from becoming a picky eater who is difficult to feed and may insist on unhealthy options.
- Remember the number 1. Offer a single new food at a time, such as whole-grain cereals, vegetables (first yellows and oranges, then greens) and low-sugar fruits. Puree them, of course, but do not mix in sugar or anything else except water, breast milk or a small amount of formula. If you add fruit to a new cereal, for instance, your baby may acquire a taste for sweetness before learning to develop a palate for nonsweet flavors. Your goal should be to have your baby like as many foods as possible—from whole grains to avocados—for their own individual flavors and textures.
- Timing is key. When your baby indicates that he or she is full or has otherwise had enough—usually by turning the head or not opening the mouth—take your cue and end the feeding session, thus fostering no association between food and unpleasant pressure.
By age 8 months, your baby will probably have eaten vegetables and should start on calcium-rich foods like yogurt and cheese. Dairy products (in lower-fat versions as your child grows), along with vegetables, are among the foods that ensure the longevity of bodies and teeth. The more positive the introduction is now, the more positive the association will be later in life. Ask us for more information about how the right first solid foods can put your baby on the road to excellent nutrition and oral health.
Safe Summer Swimming Suggestions
For many children, the arrival of summer means the beginning of days spent outdoors, splashing around in the swimming pool. While you’re probably diligent about applying sunscreen to protect your children’s skin from the sun’s harmful rays, you should also consider the effects of pool water and swimming on your children’s teeth. Supposing your children are water babies, take these precautions in and around the pool this summer:
- Check the pH. Do you have a pool at home? Keep the pH of the water above 7, ideally between 7.2 and 7.8. When using a public pool, take notice of the railings, ladders, linings and other surfaces. They may look as though they have been eaten away by acid, indicating that the pool water might contain too much chlorine.
- Consider chlorine. Most pools are kept clean with chlorine, which kills bacteria in both pools and drinking water. But exposure to too much chlorine has the power to damage the enamel on teeth. For a good defense, be sure your children brush twice daily with a soft-bristled toothbrush and a toothpaste accepted by the American Dental Association. This protects your children’s tooth enamel against the damaging effects of chlorine contact.
- Look out for swimmer’s calculus. Children who spend hours in a swimming pool every day should have their teeth checked by us for any signs of swimmer’s calculus. This condition typically results in hard, brown tartar deposits on the front teeth and/or increased tooth sensitivity to hot or cold foods.
Another concern about swimming is the possibility of a chipped or broken tooth. For children who enjoy water sports such as water polo or diving, talk to us about a custom-made mouthguard to protect their teeth. In the event that your child does chip or break a tooth, collect any found fragments and place them in milk or saliva—not water. Call us right away—even if it’s a baby tooth.
Summer should be a season of fun, and we want to make sure your children enjoy all that the warm weather has to offer—while keeping a problem-free smile. To address any concerns about pool safety and your children’s oral health, contact our office. We’ll be happy to answer all of your questions.