February is National Children's Dental Health Month and a good time to remind parents that tooth decay is one of the most common of all disorders, second only to the common cold, according to the American Dental Association.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that untreated tooth decay can have devastating results such as continuing pain and infections, poor appearance and low self-esteem, and poor growth and nutrition in children.
According to health organizations, including the New York State Department of Health, by the age of 3, children should have already visited the dentist, be brushing their own teeth and understand what foods are good for growing teeth and bones.
The American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend that the first visit to the dentist should be at 3 years of age but today's recommendations suggest parents schedule an appointment as soon as the first teeth erupt through the gums. However, there are some suggestions that if a child does not have cavity developing habits (such as sleeping with a cup or bottle) and the teeth seem to be developing normally, then parents probably can wait until the child is a little older. Just make sure your regular pediatrician checks the teeth at each well-child visit. Unfortunately, only three out of five children have seen a dentist before entering kindergarten, according to the American Dental Association.
As noted, in a recent Associated Press story, a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics is quoted as stating "fruit juice should not be given to children younger than 6 months, and there is no nutritional reason to give it to them before their first birthday." Given the problems of tooth decay and child obesity, they note that sugar drinks of any kind should "be consumed with care." While sodas can have a lot of sugar (up to nine teaspoons of sugar per can), many fruit juices are also high in sugar content.
With infants, parents should clean the gums by rubbing a moist washcloth on them. As the child gets older and more teeth grow in, parents should encourage children to practice brushing and talk with them about good eating habits.