This article was written by a patient of Peak Family Dentistry & Orthodontics and originally appeared on Mom.me
The other day at my routine checkup, my dentist pointed out how I must have been sick as a child. I was a little surprised, so he immediately pulled up a photo to show me the spots and lines that had been caused by childhood illness and antibiotics use. As it turns out, there are a number of common things that can damage kids’ teeth, but luckily, most of them are completely avoidable
Here are some suggestions to help you take better care of your kid’s teeth.
1. Be Careful with Fevers
If you’ve ever noticed that someone’s teeth seem to have a white line going straight across them, it’s likely because they had a high fever or an acute infection when they were younger. Dr. Campbell, of Peak Family Dentistry and Orthodontics, points out that the etiology of hypomineralization of the enamel is not fully understood and that there are many studies going on, but some common factors believed to influence it are fever, the use of certain antibiotics (such as amoxicillin, tetracycline and doxycycline taken before the age of 8) during formations stages or having chicken pox between ages 3 and 4.
When children get sick, the theory goes, the body to redirect its resources to fighting the infection, meaning that the enamel temporarily stops forming. While some parents advocate letting kids run a fever as a natural cure, doing so can affect their teeth, so it might be worth reaching for the fever reducer if it goes on for more than a few hours, especially if the child has other factors that might affect their dental development, such as having been born preterm, poor health, systemic conditions, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis or low birth weight.
2. Eat Solid Foods
Dr. Campbell also points out that there has been a spike in orthodontistry and breathing conditions related to poor eating habits. Many parents are serving their kids softer foods, either because the child prefers them or because they are afraid of choking, but this causes the mouth and teeth to develop in a different way. Children need to chew and push food up against the top of their mouth for the upper palate to form properly, and not doing so can lead to other health problems.
Antibiotics—including penicillin and amoxicillin—have both been linked to fluorosis, where the tooth develops with spots and white flecks on them, as well as pits which may make the tooth more susceptible to decay. Other medications can also cause enamel hypoplasia, where the enamel is fully formed, but thin and easily damaged.
4. Stop Giving a Bottle Before Bed (Unless You Brush After)
Prolonged exposure to milk or juice in the mouth can also lead to tooth decay, as the sugars turn acidic when bacteria consume them. As much as it’s comforting to give baby a final drink before dozing off, this can start eating away at delicate enamel (which may already be impacted by antibiotics) and end up doing long-term damage.
5. Limit Juice During the Day
Yes, juice. While kids love the taste and parents love the vitamins, the combination of acids (all vitamin C is acidic) and sugars delivers a double whammy that is as bad as drinking soda. It contains sugar and acids, and the sugar actually increases the acidity of the mouth, making teeth more vulnerable to cavities.
A lot of parents try to make up for the juice habit by brushing straight away, but that can make matters worse. According to one dentist, the enamel remains soft for an hour after drinking juice. Dr. Campbell suggests only serving juice during meals (if at all) and only giving them water the rest of the time.
6. Steer Clear of Painkillers
While there’s no direct link to non-opioid painkillers and dental problems, most children’s medications are loaded with sugar, so it is an absolute must to brush afterwards and to limit exposure as much as possible. If you trust in homeopathic products, I found that camillia worked almost as well for teething as Advil did. On bad days, we double up the dose and my little one was back to his chipper self within 20 minutes.
7. Make Sure They Eat Leafy Greens
We’ve always thought that milk is great for teeth, but healthy smiles also need sufficient vitamin C, D and K, all of which help with tooth formation and reduce gingival swelling, discoloration, and help keep gums happy and healthy.
8. Establish Good Brushing and Flossing Habits
Plaque takes 12 hours to harden, so brushing twice a day is enough, but it’s also critical you do so from an early age. Dr. Campbell pointed out that decay in milk teeth can travel up into the gums and harm the adult tooth that is forming underneath.
What surprised me is that he also recommends flossing toddler teeth that touch. Toddler teeth tend to be very straight on the side (as opposed to adult teeth, which have a little gap) which makes those areas the perfect breeding ground for decay. Contacting teeth should be flossed until the age of six, and after that, all teeth should be flossed.
Also, on the topic of whether to brush with or without fluoridated toothpaste, Dr. Campbell points out that while it’s recommended that children do, they also aren’t supposed to use it until they can spit, which usually happens closer to 2 years, or if the parent is wiping the toothpaste off with their finger. He pointed out that in most urban areas, the fluorine in the water will be sufficient if the child is drinking tap water. In rural areas, however, he recommends investigating the water first, because the levels are often unregulated and excess fluorine can lead to hyperfluroris, or excessive white spots on the teeth.
9. Treat Untreated Reflux
Undiscovered allergies, improper burping and digestive problems, can all damage enamel in the long run. If your kid avoids food, spits up a lot or seems uncomfortable laying down, you’ll want to investigate this and get her treated, as long-term exposure can erode the enamel on the back teeth.
10. Avoid Dry Air
The connection there is not obvious, but having dry mouth greatly increases the chance for cavities in both adults and kids. If your tot has the sniffles, he may start breathing through his mouth at night. Be sure to use a humidifier whenever it’s dry, and crank if up higher if your kid is sick and taking sugary medicines.