There’s no doubt that you make a priority of keeping your and your family’s teeth and gums healthy and looking great, that you encourage and model the very best teeth cleaning and dental hygiene habits for your family, and that you keep a regular schedule with the family dentist, seeing to responsible regular care and tending quickly to any emerging issues. But there’s more to maintaining your family’s teeth than keeping to the American Dental Association’s recommendations for brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist regularly. What more can you do to keep your family in the best dental health, to establish habits and routines for your children that will last well into their adult lives and even into the lives of their children? Home habits and trips to the dentist are the best start and the most important foundation, but there are other things that are frequently overlooked and can make a significant and lasting difference to the smiles around you.
Why It’s Important to Care of Your Family’s Teeth
As if the twinkling smiles aren’t enough, taking care of your family’s teeth can help prevent significant health issues. Teeth are vital to good nutrition, for example: the ability to maintain regular and healthy diets is the foundation of continued good health, and that can be a great deal more difficult when trouble with eating, chewing, tolerance for hot and cold sensations, and other dental- and gum-related issues arise. In addition, gum disease can contribute to or be a symptom of serious health conditions, such as infections and even greater long-term risk of heart disease. Issues with neglected, injured, or diseased teeth can lead to painful and costly issues with the jaw. The extra, under-the-radar steps necessary to maximize your family’s dental health, though, are simple and intuitive things that you can start doing right away. Read on for some tips for keeping your family’s teeth healthy and looking great.
Keep Effective Home Care Habits
Teeth cleaning, flossing, healthy eating, avoiding sugars, and maintaining regular appointments with the dentist are the most important element in keeping teeth healthy. They are certainly worth their position at the top of this list. Brushing and flossing should be done after meals and certain kinds of drinks, as well as in the morning and before bedtime. And while sugary foods and drinks can’t be avoided altogether, their impact can be mitigated by using them sparingly, brushing after their consumed, and making foods that are high in calcium and protein – which promote bone and tooth health – a regular part of your family’s diet. Seeing a dentist may seem intuitive and automatic – make regular appointments and get your family there – but there are some important nuances to consider.
See a Qualified Dentist Regularly
The American Dental Association recommends a check-up with a dentist every six months. Regular appointments with a dentist and hygienist are important because these visits are opportunities to have harmful and often brush-proof plaque buildup cleared away, and to have teeth checked for signs of decay and cavities that are undetected at home. These exams are also vital for early detection of gingivitis, periodontitis, misalignment, bruxism or teeth grinding, and even some oral cancers. Choose a practice with dentists and hygienists who are likely to have a good rapport with your younger children, and which is conveniently located, taking into consideration your family’s activities and schedule. Be sure your children are prepared for what a routine cleaning and examination will be like, and that they are aware of scheduled appointments in advance.
Another issue to consider when choosing a dental practice is the nascent and alarming concern originating with the American Dental Association about Medicare and insurance fraud. The American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute has recently changed their Medicare fraud detection guidelines. While a greater number of adults and children have dental insurance than ever before, with 90% of children covered and 72 percent of adults, those services represent an enormous expenditure within the industry, greater than $150 million in 2019. That makes the potential for fraud greater than ever. Government and industry watchdogs are looking more closely at active claims as well as individual practices and dentists: it’s wise to research closely the practices you’re working with or considering working with, and examine invoices and claims. It’s unlikely that fraudulent services are being billed to your insurance company, but it’s worth the extra diligence.
Protect Your Mouth and Teeth
While most youth sports organizations, whether school-related or not, have stringent rules in place to protect the health of participants, accidents and negligence can still happen. Don’t let referees and coaches be the last line of defense for mouth guards, shields, helmets, and other gear designed to keep your children safe: make sure that you and your child are responsible for these necessary elements of sports equipment, and avoid trips to urgent care and potential cosmetic surgery that can leave your child with a long uncomfortable recovery and months of residual bruising and contusions. Also keep in mind that these kinds of dental injuries aren’t limited to the sanctioned fields, courts, rinks, and parks: your active children can sustain these kinds of injuries playing street hockey, touch football, soccer, blacktop basketball, skateboarding, and at many other common recreational activities: protect those smiles with mouth guards and other appropriate gear. Ask your dentist about preparing a custom mouth guard for your children, and be sure to select a product that has been approved by the American Dental Association.
Build Good Dental Hygiene Habits Into Your Children
So much of parenting is safeguarding a child’s health and wellbeing, and another significant element of it is modeling good and productive habits for a happy and successful life: establishing the best dental care habits for your children combines both of these. And it’s vitally important: 25% of all preschool-aged children exhibit some signs of tooth decay. And 50% of all children in the “tween” range – 12 to 15 – have or have had cavities in that span. Your pediatrician will likely recommend that your child start receiving professional dental care as soon as their earliest tooth appears, which is generally between four and seven months. The American Dental Association recommends beginning home dental care at that time as well. It’s never too early, as long as there are teeth to brush. Once those infants and toddlers gain the cognitive ability to associate routines, dental care will be hard wired. And that’s the result you want. Be gentle with the earliest teeth, though: special brushes for that age range exist; alternatively, those baby teeth can simply be tended to with a clean wet cloth. Introduce parent-directed brushing around two years, for most children.
Consider Dental Sealants for Your Children
Your children should have permanent molars by the time they are seven years old. Dental sealants, or fissure sealants, are a common dental treatment designed to mitigate and even completely prevent tooth decay in children. Sealants made of resins or glass compounds are applied to the vulnerable early molars in order to seal the naturally-occuring fissures on those teeth and prevent penetration and decay. About a third of children over the age of six have molar sealants. It’s an option worth learning more about with your pediatrician and dentist.
Avoid Caffeine and Cigarettes
One of the best ways to model good dental care habits is to have a robust smile of bright white teeth. That means controlling how much coffee and tea you use, and how diligent about teeth cleaning you are after drinking coffee or tea or other beverages that can stain your teeth. Of course, abstaining from smoking cigarettes or cigars and using smokeless or other tobacco products has a host of health benefits, and few things are as damaging to your health – and teeth – as tobacco products. Tobacco products not only yellow your teeth rapidly, they also contribute to oral cancers, gum disease, laryngeal cancers, and a range of other serious health conditions, so to set the best example and to keep your teeth and mouth healthy, definitely avoid those.
Maintain a Healthy Diet for You and Your Family
Coffee and cigarettes aren’t the only consumable threat to the health and appearance of your teeth. A holistically healthy diet, with regular and well-rounded meals and sparing use of sugars and fats is among the most effective ways to keep your family’s teeth healthy. Some of the foods that are best for your teeth are dairy products like milk and cheeses; fruits and vegetables; high protein nuts; and grains. Meats, all of which are loaded with protein and many of which are good sources of calcium, are good for your teeth as well; the Omega-3 acids in many fish may help dental health as well by reducing the inflammation that can contribute to gum disease. And while fruits and vegetables have an array of health benefits beyond teeth, it is likely the best course to keep your family’s diet well-rounded. Though the food industry is seeing more Americans using vegan or meat-limited diets than ever – 600,000 in 2019 – the jury is still out on those diets’ impact on dental health. Vegetables, fruits, and other staples of a vegan diet represent a significant intake of fructose, while many meat-limited diets struggle to maintain healthy intakes of protein and calcium.
Avoid Excessive Sugar
The food industry certainly hasn’t made it easy to avoid sugars. Simple sugars like fructose are part of more processed foods than ever; and complex sugars like sucrose and glucose are gaining as well – many, like Agave nectar being marketed as “healthier” alternatives to syrups, table sugar, and corn syrup. But there’s reason for optimism: at the urging of the American Dental Association, soft drink manufacturers are beginning to promote healthier ways to use their products, suggesting smaller and less frequent portions, and preparing their beverages in versions with less sugar. The American Dental Association and the United States Department of Agriculture continue to recommend that sugars represent 10% or less of your daily caloric intake – a manageable figure. But sugars aren’t the only threat in common soft drinks: their combination with carbonation and enamel-eroding acids as well as the slower manner in which people consume them makes their sugars a great deal more harmful to teeth than comparable sugar amounts consumed in different ways. Sugars are among the most common cause of childhood tooth decay. A body needs sugars, but there are smarter ways to consume them. Avoid soft drinks except for occasional treats, and avoid candies and other desserts or sugary snacks that stick to teeth. Fruits, appropriate amounts of natural juices, nuts, legumes, and dry fruits like figs and dates can be much better and more nutritious sources of naturally-occuring sugars for your family.
One of the most significant factors for dental health worldwide is the availability of and access to fluoride. Fluoride is a manufactured chemical compound that is added to toothpaste and mouthwash, as well as municipal drinking water supplies in parts of the US and other western nations. Fluoride reinforces tooth enamel, making teeth better able to resist decay. Most Americans have access to fluoridated water, or at least products containing fluoride. Many without access to fluoridated water consider fluoride supplements beyond toothpaste and mouthwash. The American Dental Association established clinical guidelines restricting the use of fluorides with children younger than six years old, however: a treatment of a fluoride product for children before this threshold should be no more than a pea-sized amount, as excesses of that can lead to fluorosis, which is simply white or discolored patches on the teeth.
Observe Tooth Brushing Best Practices
According to American Dental Association guidelines for tooth brushing recommend that children and adults alike brush their teeth for a minimum of two minutes per session, and that toothbrushes be replaced every three to four months. The American Dental Association also makes no recommendations among electric and manual toothbrushes, finding them equally effective when paired with diligent and conscientious brushing.
Chew Sugar Free Gum or Use Mouthwash After Meals
Brushing after every meal isn’t always feasible: meals out, hectic schedules, meals on grocery days when toothpaste tubes are empty and other factors can limit even the most diligent tooth brushers. But portable or quick stand-ins for regular brushing and flossing can be very effective in a pinch. Chewing sugar free gum increases saliva and can loosen food residue on teeth. Gargling thoroughly with fluoridated antibacterial mouthwashes immediately after meals can have that effect as well, in addition to clearing bacteria from teeth, gums, and mouth.
According to the American Dental Association, a majority of Americans will confront cavities, tooth decay, gum disease, and other threats to dental health as they grow older. But believe it or not, almost all of it is preventable. And it’s preventable with simple, intuitive, and non-invasive practices like the ones listed above. Encourage effective brushing and flossing, help your family avoid consuming harmful things, and work closely with dental professionals and you can keep your and your family’s teeth healthy and looking great for years to come.