What’s scarier than ghosts, goblins and ghouls?
A mouth full of cavities.
As Halloween approaches and sweet treats abound, it’s important to practice proper dental hygiene to avoid tooth decay, especially in youngsters. Tooth decay remains the most common chronic disease of children aged 6 to 11 years and adolescents aged 12 to 19 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Laura Longwell, a registered dental hygienist at Third Street Family Health Services, offered some advice.
“For BOO-tiful teeth, we should brush at least twice a day, floss once a day and have fluoridated toothpaste,” she recommended.
“As I tell all my patients, you just can’t ignore the basics, and the basics are proper brushing twice a day (morning and night), and flossing once a day.”
Flossing is encouraged for children, too, once their teeth start to fit closely together.
When it comes to candy, some goodies wreak more havoc on pearly whites than others.
“All candy is not good for our teeth, but the sticky ones are even worse,” Longwell said.
For instance, you’re better off choosing a Hershey’s bar over Skittles or Starburst, she said, because the sticky little pieces can get stuck on the teeth, whereas chocolate dissolves pretty quickly.
Regardless of what sweet you eat, Longwell recommends brushing afterwards.
“We’re not going to tell kids they can’t have candy,” she said.
Your best approach, she said, is to have the child eat a small amount in one sitting followed by tooth-brushing.
“When they’re constantly snacking on that throughout the day, then they’re just putting themselves at a greater risk for cavities,” she said.
Constant grazing can cause problems even when candy isn’t the culprit. For example, snacks like pretzels and crackers break down into sugars, feeding the bacteria that cause decay.
If you're looking for mouth-healthy foods to snack on, try crisp fruits and raw veggies, such as carrots, celery or an apple, which can help clean teeth by scrubbing away plaque with each bite.
Beverage choice is also important to bear in mind. Try steering clear of sugary drinks and choosing water when thirsty. Save drinks that have natural-occurring sugars in it, like milk, for mealtime.
If you’re between meals and not near a toothbrush, Longwell recommends chewing on a piece of sugar-free gum that has xylitol in it.
“Xylitol slows down the growth of the bacteria that cause decay,” she said.
And while chewing sugarless gum can help keep teeth cleaner in the short-term, it shouldn't be considered a replacement for brushing.
When brushing the teeth, Longwell recommends the use of a fluoridated toothpaste.
“You want them using fluoridated toothpaste right from the get-go,” she said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to use a “smear” (or about the size of a grain of rice) of toothpaste for children up to age 3; those 3 and older can use a “pea-sized” amount.
Children’s brushing should be supervised to ensure proper techniques.
“Proper brushing means two minutes each time, and making sure to brush both the teeth and gums,” Longwell noted. “Kids tend to concentrate on teeth and they forget that bacteria are hiding in the gums, so they have to be reminded to do big circles over the teeth and gums.”
According to the AAP, over-the counter fluoride rinse is not recommended for children younger than 6 years due to risk of swallowing higher-than-recommended levels of fluoride.
On top of maintaining healthy dental habits at home, it’s important for children to begin getting regular dental checkups. According to Longwell, a child’s first checkup is recommended within six months after the first tooth comes in.
Early checkups, she said, can help familiarize the child with the dental office and help inform or reassure the parents that they are helping their child practice proper oral care.
This story is brought to you in part by the Little Buckeye Children's Museum, a local children's museum that is proud to provide children and families opportunities to learn and discover through the power of play every day in Richland County. As a nonprofit, Little Buckeye Children's Museum appreciates the support of the community it serves. If you would like to support Little Buckeye Children's Museum and its mission for healthy child development, click here.