By: Rachel Naud, National Post, Canada 10-Apr-2012 — Like many moms, Alison Duncan got tired of fighting a losing battle with her four-year-old daughter, Taylor. Every day, twice a day, tooth brushing was met with screams and tears.
“We tried to talk to her, calm her down, tell her it’s really important,” says the Toronto stay-at-home mom. “We’d sing songs to pass the time, we bought funky toothbrushes that would sing to her, fun toothpaste — all the gimmicks and gadgets. But she wasn’t having it.”
Duncan found the only way to get Taylor’s teeth brushed was to let her do it herself. But when Taylor had her first dental appointment at age three, the dentist discovered she already had four cavities.
Contrary to what many people believe, the rate of Canadian children with cavities are rising.
“We just found that for the first time in 40 years, the incidence in cavities in children in fluoridated communities has gone up,” says Dr. Diederik (Diedo) Millenaar, a pediatric dentist in Vancouver and president of the B.C. Society of Pediatric Dentistry.
A recent Canadian Health Measures Survey collected information on the average number of baby (or primary) teeth that were either decayed (d), missing (m) or filled (f). This survey’s “dmft” count indicated the severity of the disease. For instance, if a child had a dmft count of four, it meant the child had four teeth that were either decayed, missing or filled.
Results of the survey indicated that 48% of children ages six to 11 with their primary or baby teeth had a dmft count of at least one. Moreover, the average number of teeth that are decayed, missing or filled in this category was 1.99.
“The numbers can be attributed to the fact that parents think they’re traumatizing the child with brushing, as well as the availability and frequency children are eating processed snacks,” says Millenaar. “Also, people are ill-informed on the value of fluoride. Parents choose not to use it. Or there are some cities that don’t have fluoride in their water. Calgary just took [fluoride] out of its drinking water and they experienced a 30% increase in their level of tooth decay.”
For Duncan, treating her daughter’s tooth decay was more of a nightmare than the daily brushings. During her first treatment at the family dentist, Taylor was traumatized by the drill and the dentist was only able to fix one cavity. From there, they went to a pediatric dentist who used laughing gas, which upset Taylor even more and left her screaming and looking for her mother, who was sitting beside her the whole time. The only other option was fully sedated oral surgery to fix the remaining three cavities.
“But where do we go from there,” asks Duncan. “We can’t just keep taking her for surgery every time she gets a cavity.”
Millenaar says there are many things parents can do to avoid Duncan’s situation and keep on top of their children’s oral care, and they can start before children even pop their first tooth.
He advises parents to take a cloth or a small toothbrush and wipe or lightly brush the gums where the teeth are coming in. “It’s meant to get the child stimulated so they know it’s a normal thing to do when their teeth show up,” says Millenaar. “Most people usually start when the first tooth is there but I encourage to do it earlier if they can.”
Millenaar also says parents should not put their babies to bed with bottles of milk or juice, as the natural sugars can cause tooth decay. He says water is the best option if a child needs a bottle to sleep.
When it comes to diet, he suggests parents stay clear of sugary, processed snacks and opt for more fibrous fare such as apples, carrots or crunchy, tough bread. “Anything that really promotes chewing and is tough to tear apart,” says Millenaar. “It’s good for the teeth and makes the body produce more saliva.”
When it comes to brushing, Sophia Baltzis, a dental hygienist in Laval, Que., advises parents to have younger children lay down on a bed with their heads propped on the parent’s lap.
“That way parents have direct access and can see and brush that way,” says Baltzis. “Try to brush in a circular motion for at least two minutes, passing over every tooth.”
Flossing in a C-motion is also important, says Baltzis who says it can be introduced as early as age one if no spaces can be seen between the teeth.
And last, Millenaar says parents should make brushing non-negotiable. “Don’t apologize for brushing your child’s teeth,” Millenaar says. “When they fuss, take your time, be supportive but don’t rush. Brushing teeth is a lot easier than getting them fixed later on.”