What Your Child’s Dentist Wishes You Knew: Part One
Tooth decay is on the rise in young children. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry reports that about 60% of U.S. children will have had one or more cavities by the age of 5. Research shows that early dental visits, healthy dietary choices, and routine dental practices at home can drastically reduce a child’s risk for tooth decay.
To address this important health issue, EverydayFamily spoke with Dr. Lauren Companioni, pediatric dentist at South Tampa Kids Dental Krewe. With a pirate themed dental office, complete with ship and crew, Dr. Lauren makes going to the dentist a positive experience for kids; so positive in fact, we actually overheard young patients not wanting to leave! Dr. Lauren’s enthusiasm and passion for taking care of little teeth is so genuine and contagious we wanted to share her tips with our EverydayFamily readers in a three part series. In this first part, we're addressing the dental effects of pacifiers, bottles, and thumb sucking as well as transitioning to cups and other early dental concerns.
With so many baby products out on the market, we asked Dr. Lauren about the dental effects of artificial nipples like bottles, sippy cups, and pacifiers. Dr. Lauren explained that when used at an early age in moderation, there are minimal effects. However, she warns that prolonged use of bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers, (and thumb sucking) past an appropriate age can cause harmful changes in children’s occlusion, or bite. Over time, artificial nipples can change the manner in which the top and bottom teeth come into contact with one another. By moving the lips, tongue, and jaw into abnormal positions, the healthy alignment can be altered. As such, Dr. Lauren stressed it is very important to transition toddlers from bottles to cups on time.
Transitioning to Cups
Babies should be off the bottle by 12 months. Dr. Lauren does not recommend sippy cups. If possible, it is better to go straight from the bottle to regular cups. Dr. Lauren is also a realist; she recognizes toddlers at that age will spill and explains it doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” shift, but can vary by venue. It is beneficial to use cups as much as possible, especially at home. However, when needing a practical, no-spill alternative in the house or out in public she recommends a straw thermos as a practical and more dental-friendly alternative than a sippy cup. By 18 months, toddlers should be using regular cups.
Watch What your Child is Drinking
In addition to the structural issues with artificial nipples, Dr. Lauren explains that the content of the bottles and sippy cups is equally of concern. One of the worst things you can do from a dental perspective is to give your child a bottle or sippy cup of juice or soda, and let him or her walk around with it throughout the day drinking. The sugar is very harmful and Dr. Lauren explains it is like little teeth taking an “acid bath” which lowers the pH in the mouth and dissolves tooth enamel. When the pH is low enough the bacteria in your mouth become more active. Furthermore, it takes 15 minutes to get the pH level back. Water is the healthiest and preferable alternative, but if you are going to serve fruit juice it is better to serve it at a mealtime, let the child drink it, and then be done as opposed to continuous sipping throughout the day. Teeth should preferably be brushed or gums wiped after fruit juice.
One of the other most problematic things you can do from a dental perspective is give a baby a bottle of milk in the crib at night. Continuous sipping is again an issue with teeth. If a bottle is to be given at night, it should be finished before bed and followed by gum wiping or tooth brushing.