Subscribe to this Blog
Today's Blogs
    The Checkup:

Brush 'Em, Brush 'Em, Brush 'Em

When it comes to our toddlers' mouths, many parents are falling down on the job. At least that's the word from a National Center for Health Statistics report on oral health, which reports that nearly 28 percent of children ages 2 to 5 had at least one cavity.

While I've escaped the cavity monster with my kids (so far!), I feel for those parents who haven't. I definitely wouldn't put brushing the kids' teeth on our list of fun family activities. Many a night, I've felt pretty lucky to get one good go-round on all 20 baby teeth. And flossing? Yeah, right! Which is easier? Getting the boys to stay still for the floss or pulling the teeth out? It's a tough call.

Then, of course, are the other dental professional "no-nos":

* Bottled water instead of tap. The dentists' take: Some of those expensive bottles are missing a key ingredient -- fluoride.

* Vitamins are no good for the teeth. At our last appointment, the boys' dentist decided that elder son's new adult teeth were getting stained by the vitamins. Apparently, we have to brush RIGHT AFTER chewing up the Flintstones. Oops. And now, the American Dental Association is pinning an increase in cavities on gummy vitamins. Seems the sugar in them is no better than eating a non-vitamined gummy bear.

* Milk/juice in bed. Mom's take: How could it hurt? The kid's thirsty, after all. Plus, it'll keep them quiet and get them to sleep. The dentists' take: Sugar, sugar, sugar. It stays on the teeth ALL NIGHT LONG. Bad! Bad! Bad!

Beyond all that, experts warn, is not getting kids to the dentist early enough. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that you start dentist appointments by the first birthday. Guess it's time to make their next appointment.

How has your kids' dental care gone? What tricks or modes of persuasion have you used to encourage good oral hygiene?

Recalls Update

The CPSC has issued a number of recalls this week. Here's a list: Kolcraft Play Yards | Target Toy Gardening Tools and Chairs | Additional Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway Toys | Toby & Me Jewelry Sets | Children's Puppet Theaters | Children's Toy Rakes

By Stacey Garfinkle |  September 28, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Babies , Preschoolers
Previous: Winning Isn't Everything... | Next: Shoe Fits

Comments


Brush your teeth all you want, but it's the flossing that will prevent most cavities from forming and keep your teeth from falling out when you get older. Mouthwash helps too, as it reduces the amount of cavity-causing bacteria from forming where the brush & floss can't reach.

I often tell my kids, "Go sharpen your teeth and I'll let you stay up later." Quite effective. They know that when I say "sharpen your teeth", it means, "go floss".

Posted by: DandyLion | September 28, 2007 8:08 AM | Report abuse

At almost 34, I've had one little "cavity" -- so little that the doc didn't use novacaine (but he should have!!). I NEVER drink soda. Ever. I wasn't much of a juice drinker either. It was water (from the tap since this was before the bottled water craze) or iced tea. Candy was limited as a special treat (and because of that, I never finished my Halloween or Easter candy!). And up until a few years ago, I only brushed before bed! I do make a point to go to the dentist every 6 months, and I've done that all my life (regardless of whether I had insurance or not) with the exception of when I had braces since it was just too painful!

I was at my cousin's house over the summer and she was talking to her friend -- both of their sons (around 6 and 7) have had MULTIPLE cavities (we're talking almost double digits) in their baby teeth! And they were talking about how they were cutting back on the "junk" because of how embarrassed they were. Well, in the short time I was there, my cousin fed her three kids (6, 4, 2) two ice pops each, soda, juice, and candy (on top of lunch) -- it's no wonder they're hyper and have cavities!

Posted by: WDC 21113 | September 28, 2007 8:42 AM | Report abuse

I will relish with some irony that Americans, despite this NCHS report, still probably have the best teeth in the world. We are obsessed with dental hygene, and the results are that we tend to have cleaner teeth that are more straight, and are better taken care of than any place that I can think of.

Sugar is not good for your teeth, and DandyLion is right about flossing, but I have to be skeptical of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry when theysuggests getting kids into see dentists more often. Dental appointments are expensive, and dental insurance is increasingly rare. I think it is reasonable to question whether such frequent visits to a professional are necessary when you (and your children) can take care of most of these things at home without power tools.

Posted by: David S | September 28, 2007 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Posted by David S @ September 28, 2007 08:49 AM:

"when theysuggests getting kids into see dentists more often"

That should be "when they suggest."

Clumsy of me. I'm beginning to sound like Bush. This week has been too long.

Posted by: David S | September 28, 2007 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I always take my kids to the dentist with me so they can watch and aren't afraid when they begin to go at age 2. For their first appointment the dentist has allowed them to sit on my lap if they are worried. The past time we went he showed my 3 year old twins how to help me floss their teeth and they now request the service nightly. My 9 y/o is another story! She has not yet had a cavity.

We do not do juice or soda at all or gummy vitamins or candy. So far, no cavities and they actually want to brush their teeth (except for the baby who really doesn't have any yet).

Posted by: Mom of 5 | September 28, 2007 9:00 AM | Report abuse

The problem with the recommendation for drinking tap water is it doesn't account for the folks who don't have public water. For the folks in DC, this may seem weird, but a large portion of the country gets its water from a well.

I've always heard that teeth problem are something like 75-80% genetics. Thats how you get stories like WDC 21113. Mine is similar: 33, 2 tiny cavities both too small for novacaine, until age 28 only brushed once per day, started flossing regularally at age 31, plus I drink diet soda constantly and my parents let me eat my candy.

My husband is 32, has always brished at least twice a day, flosses regularally, drinks only coffee, water, and beer, doesn't even like sweets. Yet he has a new cavity every trip.

Posted by: Ruby | September 28, 2007 9:26 AM | Report abuse

I think genetics has a lot to do with it, too, Ruby. I brush, floss, use the waterpik on hard to reach crevices, blah blah blah but I'm the one who constantly needs work: root canal, crown, bridge...you know, the expensive stuff. My husband brushes, nothing else, and he's never had a cavity. I'm religious about having my kids brush but not flossing so much because their teeth are pretty spread out (yeah, I know I'm making excuses :). Thankfully, they've never had any dental problems and they're 12, 12 and 18!

Posted by: momof3boys | September 28, 2007 9:32 AM | Report abuse

I must admit, I thought the percentage of well drinkers was higher. I just looked it up, and according to EPA, approximately 15% of the US population gets it water from a well. But that is still over 45 million people.

Posted by: Ruby | September 28, 2007 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Hmmm....My dentist suggested age 4 for the first appt for each of my kids (now 7 and 10). Has that recommendation changed in the past 2 or 3 years?

I am 40, and have had 1 cavity in my life. It was when mom changed toothpaste from Crest (paste) to Aim (new, better tasting gel!). After the cavity (my brother had 3!), Aim went away, Crest was back! Also, my mom only enforced night time brushing, and flossing was unheard of! Even at the dentist.

Fast forward to now.... I still only have that one cavity, I floss irregularly, a few times a week. For some reason I never got in the habit. Brush 2-3 times a day.

Both kids are still cavity free. They brush 2 times a day, and 'swish' with a rinse at night. They floss as best they can. Dentist visits every 6 months (luckily we have fantastic dental insurance that pays 100% of cleanings).

We don't ban sugar, soda, candy from the house, but it is strictly limited. Both kids chomp on gummy vitamins daily. Oh - and we definately use Crest toothpaste!

I guess my point is, I think some are just more prone to cavities than others. My family is definately aware of the importance of dental hygiene, but we certainly don't think about it when we go about our day - banning certain items based on how it will affect our teeth.

Posted by: prarie dog | September 28, 2007 9:35 AM | Report abuse

In well country, we use flouride drops for the kids.

Posted by: oh well | September 28, 2007 9:39 AM | Report abuse

My daughter is 2 and no issues yet except for some plaque formation on her front bottom teeth. The dentist said this was hereditary an due to excess calcium or something in the saliva. (Never heard this, but ok, fine!)

We've been taking her since she was 1, and damn! It's expensive: approx. $90/per visit.

My niece just had to take her son to get some caps on his teeth -- he's about the same age as my daughter, 3. She brushes his teeth 2x/day but these teeth are rotting and if they don't do well with the caps, they will have to pull them out. Why it happens, who knows? They were quite rude to my niece though, and told her to stop feeding her son so much junk.

Posted by: Lost in space | September 28, 2007 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Posted by Ruby @ September 28, 2007 09:32 AM

"I must admit, I thought the percentage of well drinkers was higher. I just looked it up, and according to EPA, approximately 15% of the US population gets it water from a well. But that is still over 45 million people."

Most people I know who rely on well water floridate it.

Posted by: David S | September 28, 2007 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Ooops, looks like "oh well" got there first. I am just slow today.

Posted by: David S | September 28, 2007 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Baby 11 months yesterday and still no teeth, but want to hear more about how people practically get their babies' teeth clean [before they can brush on their own] esp since I was one of those many many childhood cavity kids [in a household where sweets/soda were rare -- as in, my mom would on occasion buy one chocolate bar and share it out among the kids]

Posted by: smug expat | September 28, 2007 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Want to prevent cavities in children? Ban juice. There's nothing healthy about it. Juice is loaded with sugar and empty calories. Also keep an eye on drinks. There is more sugar in a capri sun than there is in a 20 ounce coke. Sports drinks are loaded with sugar and sodium. Water is a better thing for them to drink at night. It will keep your children hydrated better and doesn't leave sugar on their teeth.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 28, 2007 10:36 AM | Report abuse

It's genetic. It's also that some kids are lucky and some aren't.

We were careful with my oldest child and he ended up with 2 cavities, one bad enough to need a crown, in his molars at age 4. As a teenager his teeth are yellowed much more than the average kid even with constant dental care, no coffee drinking or smoking, etc.

My youngest, who is 5, almost never brushes, maybe once a week if we're lucky. He nursed until he was 2 1/2, including at night. He has beautiful, spaced apart teeth (which might be his saving grace) and no cavities (he's seen the dentist twice) and sweet smelling breath.

You just never know. We don't do any of the no-no's mentioned above; we drink tap water, don't take kids' vitamins, don't let them walk around or go to bed with sippy cups or bottles. But careful brushing hasn't helped my older son and not brushing hasn't hurt my younger one (yet.)

Posted by: Peggy | September 28, 2007 10:38 AM | Report abuse

I should have added that both my parents have/had bad teeth, and I'm an only child, so that throws out the genetics. However, because of my parents, I am teeth-obsessed (it's also date-breaker, too).

My dad finally went to the dentist a few years ago for the first time in decades, and he was under my mom's policy, there should have been no excuse. My mom never really talks about it (but she does go to the dentist eery 6 months), I think it was because there were sweets in the house when she was growing up. It affected her teeth, it affected her siblings' waists...

Posted by: WDC 21113 | September 28, 2007 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Definitely don't discount genetics. My mother has 9 crowns and my father has one cavity at age 80. My father in law lost all his teeth and my mother in law has no crowns, but some fillings. I haven't seen any rhyme or reason to cavities. I've had "soft spots" in my teeth heal themselves with fluoride mouthwash and new cavities that needed to be filled pop up on other teeth.

Right now I find it nearly impossible to get my son to brush his teeth more than twice a day. They brush after lunch at school and he brushes at night, but to try to get him to brush in the AM is a bear and he skips it most times. There are many flossing products for kids that make flossing fun, but it's hard for me to remember to get him to floss every night when I'm giving two kids a bath. Since general bathtime can reach as long as 45 minutes the whole thing gets pretty crazy. I'm going to read this thread to see what other parents do.

Posted by: DCer | September 28, 2007 10:55 AM | Report abuse

My dentist told me that there isn't any reason to bring a child under age 3 or 4 to the dentist- and that dentists who say otherwise are just trying to make more money.

I took his advice and my kids' teeth are just fine- no cavities. I suspect that part of this is good genes- I also have "perfect" teeth.

Anyway, just a suggestion that people view official warnings with some skepticism.

Posted by: acorn | September 28, 2007 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Add us to the "bad genes" category. DH just doesn't get many cavities in spite of his sugared soda addiction, but he has lousy gums. I'm the opposite--low sugar diet, only diet soda and that only rarely, brush three times a day, floss twice, flouride rinse, I've even used prescription toothpaste in the past and I STILL get cavities every six months, I have crowns and have needed root canals--my mouth is just a mess (as were my parents' mouths--I remember being fascinated with my father's gold fillings when I was young!).

We're not yet sure who the kids will take after in this area. My poor son had one molar that came in badly decayed--he had to have the infection drained and treated and the tooth pulled (that was more a result of his immune system disorder than anything else). He's had no more cavities in the subsequent three years, but my daughter has had one, which I guess isn't terrible in eight years. I just hope they stay pretty lucky! I wouldn't wish my teeth on anyone.

Posted by: Sarah | September 28, 2007 11:45 AM | Report abuse

My way of getting my son to brush is to say, "Brush only the ones you want to keep."

I've also tried: "Just brush the yellow ones today. You can do the green ones tomorrow, and brown ones the day after that."

Posted by: meohmy | September 28, 2007 11:47 AM | Report abuse

David S and "oh well" pointed out flouride treatments for well water. I didn't even know you could flouridate well water. Interesting, I may look into it.

FYI - I'm on a well, my folks are on a well, and I just spoke with 3 coworkers on wells. None of us use "floride drops" in our wells, or have ever even heard of it. Are these drops you give the kids (like louzenges)? Or drops that go in the well (like when you have to shock it with bleach)?

Posted by: Ruby | September 28, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I grew up on well water. Great water. My mom used to put flouride drops in our water or OJ every day. None of us had any cavities until we were in our twenties. We also didn't eat a lot of sugar or drink soda, except on special occasions.

Posted by: meohmy | September 28, 2007 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Actually, an article I read in parents a zillion years ago indicated that there is some bacteria (enzyme? something else?) that they found in people who have more cavities than others. And some people have it (and then, are more likely to have cavities) and some don't ( and are less likely to have cavities). So, the suggestions were to not share food (forks, bottles, cups, etc), so as not to transfer those bacteria to the kid if you have them in your mouth.

My 2 YO LOVES to brush his teeth - the older one (5) would brush his teeth at night so the little one wanted his own brush - and we got him one. I was NOT upset that he wanted to brush his teeth, even though I wouldn't have gotten him a brush so young (don't know how long we've been doing this, but quite a while) - but he loves to brush teeth with his older brother at night. So at least they are developing good habits about their teeth these days.

And I have heard that conflicting advice re: when to go to dentist. My Pediatrician said 4 is fine - then when DS was in PreK in order to keep his spot, we had to get some form filled out, so he had to go, so now it's every six months. And the insurance co. covers more of the visit for US than for the kids *sigh*.

Posted by: atlmom | September 28, 2007 12:35 PM | Report abuse

"it's hard for me to remember to get him to floss every night when I'm giving two kids a bath. Since general bathtime can reach as long as 45 minutes the whole thing gets pretty crazy. "

So why do you bathe them every night? Lighten up and just do it every other day or every third day. They won't die, trust me.

And also - LOL @ a 45 minute bathtime for two kids being "crazy." You really have no clue what crazy is....

Posted by: to DCer | September 28, 2007 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Posted by Ruby @ September 28, 2007 12:24 PM:

"FYI - I'm on a well, my folks are on a well, and I just spoke with 3 coworkers on wells. None of us use "floride drops" in our wells, or have ever even heard of it. Are these drops you give the kids (like louzenges)? Or drops that go in the well (like when you have to shock it with bleach)?"

The individuals I know get a perscription from their dentist for liquid with a dropper and add it to individual drinks so that they get the floride. There may be mechanical/automated systems that do this as well, but I do not know of any off hand.

However, floride occurs naturally in water as well, and you can get kits that measure the quantity of floride in present in your well water. It may actually be necessary in some cases to remove floride from the water because there is too much (just as you would remove lead, etc).

My friends who use well water belong to an organization that provides information on this sort of thing. I want to say it was called the "Water Systems Council" or "Well Water Systems Council" or something like that.

Posted by: David S | September 28, 2007 2:17 PM | Report abuse

I dunno what about mine- we didn't have insurance growing up and doctor visits were only when someone was REALLY sick or going wrong. So dentists visits were pretty much unheard of- and I do have horrible teeth cleaning habits and never got the braces or corrections growing up so my teeth are really really bad now.

I think like everything it's just a matter of putting it into practice and modeling the behavior you want to instill. There's how many books and discussions on helping kids learn how to go to the bathroom, but what about learning how to take care of teeth and handle dentists visits? I think that's a LOT bigger of an issue overall.


Posted by: Liz D | September 28, 2007 3:30 PM | Report abuse

So why do you bathe them every night? Lighten up and just do it every other day or every third day. They won't die, trust me.
----

uhhh... do you let your children play outside ever? Because I have boys and they need a bath every night. About that, there is no argument. No argument. The kids get outside, they play, they get covered with dirt, they get baths.

How many days do you go to work without a shower? No difference.

Posted by: DCer | September 28, 2007 4:45 PM | Report abuse

The highlight of my stepdaughter's LIFE for the first three years was brushing teeth. At first, my husband had that little rubber fingertip thing that you run over gums and baby's first teeth, and then we got her Pooh and Tigger toothbrushes, so she could choose one each time. It actually got to the point that she was trying to brush her teeth five or six times a day, to the exclusion of other forms of play, so we had to teach her to tone it down.

For the juice thing...when my baby teeth were growing in, my mom would leave me with bottles of apple juice at night, which left me with two huge brown stains on my front two teeth, which I had until I got my adult teeth.

For vitamins, you should have the child have their vitamin before or during breakfast, so it's not sitting on the teeth, and then, of course, have them brush AFTER breakfast.

Despite my stained front baby teeth, I never had a cavity until I came back from a year in England, and then I had 11!!! That was lame.

Posted by: Kat | September 29, 2007 3:18 PM | Report abuse

"uhhh... do you let your children play outside ever? Because I have boys and they need a bath every night. About that, there is no argument. No argument. The kids get outside, they play, they get covered with dirt, they get baths. "

So during DC winters, when you shuttle them from your front door to the door of their daycare or school and then in the evening back to the front door of your house, barely coming into contact with fresh air, much less DIRT, do you still bathe them? Probably. You bathe them every night because you're conditioned by society or your own mother or someone to think that it's necessary - when hand and face washing is all that is really needed.

It is completely different than an adult showering daily. Young kids don't have B.O. and they don't get greasy hair after a day or two of not washing their hair. Many adults do.

Posted by: to DCer | September 30, 2007 12:46 PM | Report abuse

My older two kids (5 & 3) have always loved brushing their teeth, so it's never been an issue. My son (5) went to the dentist for the first time when he was 4 (no cavities) and our dentist said that they don't do regular cleanings before age 4...younger kids really just get their teeth brushed while sitting in the chair, but it does get them the experience of sitting in the chair. My youngest is 13 months and just got her first 3 teeth.

My husband and I both have problems with our teeth, some unrelated to the amount of brushing, flossing, etc that we do. I have a crown for an oddly shaped adult tooth and a bridge to cover where an adult tooth never formed. My husband has problems with his enamel. My mother has absolutely perfect teeth, so I'm hoping that my kids have hope in a recessive good teeth gene.

Posted by: momof3 | October 1, 2007 7:46 AM | Report abuse

So during DC winters, when you shuttle them from your front door to the door of their daycare or school and then in the evening back to the front door of your house, barely coming into contact with fresh air, much less DIRT, do you still bathe them?
----------

You are living in a fantasy world of your own creation. You have no idea who I am and what my kids do. I will stoop low enough to say, "Finger paints" and drop this topic.

Posted by: DCer | October 1, 2007 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I asked the pediatrician AND my dentist about recommendations for children's dentists when my son turned a year and both said it's hard to find a dentist willing to see a kid under 4 because if you do anything major you have to sedate them and it's a bad scene. My son loved the rubber finger toothbrush when he first started teething but now that he has most of his teeth at 15 mos, most of the time he HATES getting his teeth brushed. I havne't attempted flossing since brushing can be a 2-person job. I have read in magazines that toddlers are more amenable to it if you let them brush your teeth first but I haven't tried this yet.

Posted by: Eri-chan | October 2, 2007 10:04 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2010 The Washington Post Company