February is the month for celebrating the dental health of children. The ADA recommends kids have their first dental checkup 6 months after their first tooth erupts. Although the first few visits to the dentist will just be taking a peek, it is important to start young. Early diagnosis of cavities can lead to much less invasive procedures in the long run.

It is estimated that a whopping 42% of children ages 2-11 have had cavities on baby teeth, and 21% have had cavities on permanent teeth. It is a misconception that brushing and flossing alone will keep you cavity-free. While good oral hygiene habits help, diet will be the main focus in preventing decay.

Cavities form with the frequency of exposure to carbohydrates. So not the amount, but how often you are consuming them. A great example is a child that eats one package of gummies but takes a bite every 30 minutes all day long will be at a very high risk of getting cavities versus a kid that eats nine packages of gummies but has them with breakfast, lunch, and dinner would be a relatively low risk for cavities. This is because of the way that cavities form. The bacteria in your mouth feed off of carbohydrates and, unfortunately, do not know good carbohydrates from bad carbohydrates. The byproduct of the bacteria feeding off of the carbohydrates is acid production. The acid production lasts approximately 30 minutes after the last sip or bite of whatever carbohydrate is consumed. Therefore the kids that snack and graze all day long on crackers, gummies, granola bars, fruit, etc., are going to be much higher cavity risks than the kids that have structured meal and snack times. Another considerable culprit is juice, even if it’s watered down. Stick juice with breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner, and have a lot of water between meals. The best teeth-friendly snacks to have between meal times will be meats, cheeses, nuts, and veggies. While we understand it is impractical to have those types of snacks all the time, it is essential to structure the carbohydrate-based snacks to 15 minutes and then be all done with them.

The ADA also recommends that kids brush their teeth for 2 minutes 2 times a day and floss once daily. This will help to reduce the amount of acid-producing bacteria in your mouth and keep your gums nice and healthy. We recommend setting a timer and helping your child at least 1 time per day until they are about 8 years old because that is when their dexterity begins to improve, and they can keep everything clean on their own. Remember what Aristotle said, “good habits formed at youth make all the difference.”