Before National Children’s Dental Health Month comes to an end, I want to shout this advice from the rooftops. Cavities are NOT a necessary evil…not in baby teeth and not in permanent teeth. New science gives us the ability to reverse cavities, make enamel harder in genetically soft teeth, and prevent nearly ALL cavities for kids and adults alike. I’m so passionate about this subject that I shake when I speak about it. So you can imagine how I must get when…
I was talking to a mom-friend of mine last week. Her son just found out he had a cavity, and she was stressed out. So she said to me, “all kids get cavities, right? I mean, cavities in baby teeth is no big deal…that’s why we get a first set of teeth that falls out, right?”
FALSE! FALSE! FAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLSE!
As a parent, you hate hearing that the dentist found cavities in your kids teeth. Still, it soothes you to think, “at least they’re baby teeth that will eventually fall out.” But that doesn’t soothe the expense OR the fact that your kid is going to have to undergo an unpleasant procedure. Funny…after that procedure, what do we do to soothe our kid? Give him a lollipop, of course! (Seriously, y’all…you wouldn’t do that, right? At least not until I tell you below which lollipops help reverse cavities…)
Take it from a mom who is a dentist. It doesn’t have to be this way. Even if your child inherited your “soft teeth”, here are 4 easy things you can do to minimize and even erase cavities from your child’s life (and they will work for your teeth too!).
- Toothbrushes: Any Kind and Everywhere. From the section in the dollar store to the entire long aisle in the drugstore, there are a zillion toothbrushes to choose from. And, I’m here to tell you that aside from choosing soft bristles* it truly doesn’t matter what kind you choose.
Your best bet is to let your kid choose — make it a fun reward in the store — and when it comes down to the favorite 2 or 3 and it’s hard to decide, surprise your kid and buy all 3! Then, when you get home put one toothbrush (along with a toothpaste that he or she really likes) near every sink in the house. If you’re a little OCD like me, throw the brush/paste combo in a ziplock and keep it in the cabinet or drawer nearest the sink. Proximity is half the battle.
When Sammie and Oscar invade my bathroom, or when I’m working in the kitchen, I can get them to quickly brush. Even if they tell me they already brushed today, I can say, “That’s great! Now go ahead and do a quickie-brush while you’re right here.”
Note: The most important time of the whole day to brush is right before bed. If your kid likes brushing, encourage them to add in flossing. Try Gum Chucks: cool flossers that make it easy for kids (and adults!)
**Side note on the soft bristles: One of the smartest dentists in the world, John Kois, ran several experiments using soft, medium and hard-bristled brushes and found that the bristles don’t harm your teeth. What does harm your enamel is the abrasivity (RDA) of your toothpaste. Use only toothpastes with RDA of 70 or less.**
- Xylitol: The miracle gum. (This font won’t show you, but this is when I really start shaking with excitement.) Xylitol is an all-natural sugar substitute that looks like sugar and tastes like sugar, but doesn’t act like sugar. In fact, xylitol behaves opposite to sugar’s bad behaviors. It has one-third the calories, a low glycemic index, and helps to remineralize tooth enamel. That’s right, it can help your enamel re-grow! So it prevents and even reverses cavities. You can find it in gum, candy, mints, mouth spray, and in granular form. (side note: choose 100% xylitol products because the gum in the store that has xylitol in it may also have another sweetener like malitol, sucralose, or aspartame that can counteract the healthy xylitol benefits)
When Sammie and Oscar were toddlers, I started giving them xylitol candy, and I sprinkled plain xylitol on their fruits and called it candy dust. And, once they were beyond choking hazard age, I taught them how to chew gum and encouraged them to chew xylitol gum all day long. I buy vats of the gum on Amazon and keep it out on the counter where they can grab a piece anytime. I make sure they’re chomping on it when we read bedtime stories. And, the very last thing after they brush their teeth before bed is pump in a few shots of xylitol mouth spray. I remember nights when they were both babies, and after a long hectic day I tucked them in bed only then remembering I hadn’t brushed their teeth. So, I woke them and brushed their teeth… right? No way! Those nights I whispered that we forgot the “candy spray,” and in their sleep they’d open wide and I pumped in several shots of tasty xylitol spray. I honestly believe we could eliminate most cavities if we substituted xylitol for every sugar or syrup available in food and drink.
Any negatives on xylitol? Two that I can think of:
• It’s expensive. I believe if we get the word out and create a demand, then production will increase and price will go down. In the meantime, expensive lollipops, gum, and candy dust are WAY cheaper than unpleasant filling appointments at the dentist’s office!
• Just like healthy favorite dark chocolate, xylitol will hurt your pets. Keep Fido away from the vat-o-xylitol-gum.
- Sealants: Consider sealants to be a coat of armor preventing cavities from growing in the deep crevices of back teeth. The deep grooves of molars and premolars are excellent hiding places for cavity-causing bacteria. The bacteria stay in the groove for a long time and destroy the enamel causing a cavity that decays and eventually destroys the tooth. Many of these grooves are deep and also smaller than one toothbrush bristle. That means that brushing can not remove the bacteria or debris from the grooves.
When we place sealants, we use a special cleaner to completely clean out the deep grooves, and then we flow a protective resin to fill the groove. The bacteria can’t get back into the groove, and this specific kind of cavity is prevented.
I recommend sealants for all teeth with grooves (molars and pre-molars/bicuspids and even the backs of your front teeth if your front teeth are super groovy). I even recommend sealants for baby teeth if possible. However, most dental insurance will pay only for sealants in permanent molars and only in children (not adults)…but don’t get me started on my soap box of insurance companies dictating what’s best for your health!
- The Great Fluoride Debate: This disagreement is decades long and started over the US government’s decision to fluoridate the public water supply. This debate has stayed fresh in dentistry as fluoride is one of our greatest tools in cavity prevention and in strengthening teeth.
Dentist’s argument: Simply put, when the fluoride ion is taken up by enamel and used in enamel’s crystalline structure, the enamel becomes much stronger and less likely to decay. The amount of fluoride in drinking water and toothpaste is an incredibly small and incredibly safe amount.
Anti-fluoridationist’s argument: At higher doses, fluoride is a poison. The activists consider the government’s decision to fluoridate the water supply to be an unethical form of mass-medication.
Where do I stand? I can see both sides. Before the fluoridation of water, the number one reason kids missed school was a toothache or tooth infection/abscess. Those numbers dropped significantly after a trace amount of fluoride was to drinking water. Interestingly, during the last 2 decades where bottled water (no fluoride) has become more popular than tap water to drink, the incidence of tooth decay is going up. If you’re drinking only bottled water, the dental science tells me that you should at least be getting fluoride in your toothpaste.
What about fluoride treatments at the dentist? These treatments use higher concentrations of fluoride, and science shows that they result in stronger uptake of fluoride in the enamel crystal — which means stronger enamel. If your child has (or you have) soft teeth that are cavity-prone, it’s a good idea to use the fluoride treatment. If your child has never had a cavity before (and you’re practicing the other 3 pieces of advice above), then you’re probably okay to limit the fluoride treatment (maybe just once per year instead of twice).
Current Events: For cavity-prone children and adults, there are newer, safer products (like CariFree and Enamelon) on the market. An, even though the anti-fluoridationists hate these products, if you have soft teeth and cavities and you want to reverse small cavities and eventually become completely cavity-free, these products will help you do that.
**UPDATE for anti-fluoridationists! As I was working on this piece, I just received notice from a dentist friend of mine that he has completed his tooth powder that has natural ingredients, xylitol, and no fluoride. I’ll be testing it soon, and I will keep everyone posted on our findings.**[/box]
I’ve been in this profession long enough to realize that when there are strong debates like these, it’s unwise to pick just one side. In dentistry and all of healthcare for that matter, it’s important to first consider each individual and his/her risk factors and his/her personal concerns, and only then decide what treatment is most ideal.
There you have it:4 tried and true action steps to prevent and reverse tooth decay.