Traditionally, dentistry has focused on oral hygiene practices such as brushing and flossing as well as the avoidance of sugar. But even with these efforts, tooth decay remains the number one chronic infectious disease among children in the U.S. according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Even with the advancements in early detection and treatment, this focus on hygiene and avoidance of sugary foods alone is not proving to be a truly preventative approach. More comprehensive tools are needed because, while avoiding excess sugar and hygiene are very important, there are many factors, including things like the impacts of mouth breathing, at play in the prevention of tooth decay in children. Understanding how a cavity forms can be a helpful first step for parents.
How do Cavities Form?
Dr. Mark Burhenne of Ask the Dentist breaks this down for us, “When you eat sugary foods, processed carbs, or any other food that turns to sugar once consumed, naturally-occurring bacteria in your mouth feed on these sugars. They then form bacteria clusters, protected by a layer of plaque, that excrete highly acidic waste onto the teeth. This acid then destroys tooth enamel, causing cavities."
The condition of the oral microbiome (which refers to the balance of good-to-bad bacteria in the mouth), the mouth’s pH (bad, cavity-causing bacteria love acidic conditions), and the quality of the saliva all contribute to cavities. While tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, it can still be damaged by acidic saliva. When the pH of your child's saliva drops below 5.5, their tooth enamel starts to break down...making them more susceptible to cavities.
Many high-sugar or high-carbohydrate foods and drinks, such as processed snacks or soft drinks, can affect a child's oral pH levels and increase their risk of developing tooth decay. That happens because, when oral bacteria break down these sources of carbohydrates and sugars, they release a variety of acids that lower the pH of the saliva.
How does diet impact ORAL HEALTH?
Dental health has long been thought of as being a reflection of our overall health. However, in his book, Dr. Lin challenges us to think about our dental health as being the foundation for our overall health (or healthspan), and not a side-effect of it.
Did you know that dental disease began after the Industrial Revolution? Before that, we ate diets that supported our bodies and our oral health. How much of an impact does our current diet have on our health?
42% of kids develop cavities in their baby teeth
an estimated 4-million kids in the US wear braces due to crooked teeth
the number of people wearing orthodontics doubled between 1982 and 2008
Poor diet can lead to poor oral health. This can have long-term impacts on a child's current health and their overall healthspan as they become adults. The health of the microbiome and overall oral health can be a contributing factor when it comes to developing diseases, both in childhood and adulthood, and conditions such as:
The consequences of a child's poor oral health go far beyond tooth decay and gum disease. Oral health also encompasses jaw alignment and oral cavity --- both of which can impact a child's ability to breathe properly. Poor oral health, of any kind, affects a child's long-term emotional, mental, and physical well-being.
how can airway dysfunction impact cavities and oral health?
Open mouth posture, due to airway dysfunction, during sleep can change the pH of a child's mouth and the quality of their saliva. Mouth breathing causes the mouth to dry out, which in turn, creates a damaging effect on the normal process of your oral cavity. A dry mouth means that saliva cannot perform the role it's meant to in your child's mouth.
Especially at a young age, mouth breathing can change the structure and development of a child's face. There are also physical signs such as an inability to seal lips, dark circles under the eyes, a long face, an open bite, a high or narrowing palate, or a sudden change in posture.
In addition to their facial development, mouth breathing can pose negative threats to a child's long-term health. These changes can have long-term effects on their health by:
Decreasing quality of sleep
Causing poorly functioning auto-immune system
Decreasing brain function and IQ
Impacting speech and swallowing capabilities
Increasing risk for dental complications
Causing small or delayed growth
Causing chronic GI distress, reflux, or ear infections
Lead to emotional instability and depression
Having a pediatric airway-focused dentist on your child’s care team is an invaluable resource in the prevention of tooth decay as they will be able to identify these root causes and assist in correction.
Dr. Felix Liao, DDS, so poetically puts it, “The mouth is to humans what roots are to plants.” Just as the roots of a plant need the right soil, environment, and nutrients to help it grow and thrive, we want to ensure our children’s oral health is a solid foundation for their overall well-being.
ways to prevent tooth decay in children
One of the biggest ways to help prevent and manage tooth decay in children is to ensure they receive regular dental cleanings. The American Dental Association (ADA) states that developing good habits at an early age and scheduling regular dental visits helps children get a good start on a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.
The ADA recommends that children see a dentist by their first birthday. These early visits can help identify problems, such as those with their teeth, tongue, and airway.
Here are a few tips and tricks to help guide your child into long-term, good oral health:
Wiping your baby's gums after feedings is a great way to desensitize and prepare them for an oral hygiene routine! Xylitol wipes help to make this task easier.
Sugary snacks are not the only ones to cause tooth decay! Be mindful of snacks that “stick” to the teeth like pretzels, chips, crackers and other Goldfish-type snacks, fruit snacks, dried fruit, and granola bars.
Clean your child's tongue! Tongue brushing (or scraping) helps remove additional bacteria. You can do this with a toothbrush or a tongue scraper.
Ensure your child drinks plenty of water every day. As a general rule to get enough water, your child or teen should drink at least 6 to 8 (eight-ounce) cups of water a day.
Adding in prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods will help to feed the good bacteria in your child's mouth...which, in turn, will help balance their oral microbiome.
Incorporate a good nasal hygiene routine at bedtime to ensure kids are breathing their best.
Flossing daily when teeth touch! This can be trickier with toddlers so remember, one quadrant is better than none, or having a goal of twice a week and going up from there. Hang in there and remember, you're helping to develop healthy, long-term oral hygiene habits for your child.
SPOTLIGHT BOOK RESOURCE FOR PARENTS
A unique exploration of how dental health connects to holistic health, with a 40-day meal plan and long-lasting dietary guidelines that are easily integrated into everyday life.
Throughout the years, dental health has often been characterized as a reflection of our overall health, where bad oral health results from issues with other parts of our body. But what if we flipped the paradigm? What if we thought about dental health as the foundation for our physical health as a whole?
Dr. Steven Lin, an experienced dentist and the world’s first dental nutritionist, has analyzed our ancestral traditions, epigenetics, gut health, and the microbiome to develop food-based principles for a literal top-down holistic health approach.
Merging dental and nutritional science, Dr. Lin lays out the dietary program that can help ensure you won’t need dental fillings or cholesterol medications —and gives you the resources to raise kids who develop naturally straight teeth. With our mouth as the gatekeeper of our gut, keeping our oral microbiome balanced will create a healthy body through a healthy mouth.
Dr. Lin arms you with a 40-day meal plan, complete with the Dental Diet food pyramid, exercises for the mouth, recipes, and cooking techniques to help you easily and successfully implement his techniques into your everyday life. The tools to improve overall wellness levels and reverse disease are closer than we think—in our markets, in our pantries, and, most frequently, in our mouths.
TOOLS TO HELP FIND A PEDIATRIC AIRWAY-CENTRIC DENTIST
If you are in the US or Canada you can use the Dentist Locator tool from Airway Health Solutions to locate an airway dentist in your area.