Citizen Article – Cavities

As we grind through the winter months, February comes upon us. For us in the dental profession February is symbolic for kids. This month every year is Children’s’ Dental Health Month where the dental profession makes a concerted effort to spread the work through education of the importance of oral health. This endeavor is especially worthwhile since our children in Cayuga County have one of the highest rates of dental caries (cavities) in New York State.

Education is vitally important but it is more than just relying upon teachers in the school systems to complete the task. Although the lessons of proper oral health are taught in the schools, the teachers are already overwhelmed with required curriculum items. The lessons that are taught have to be carried on by the parents or guardians at home. A prime example of this would be a lesson on proper health drink choices. If a child learns what are healthy chores and what are bad choices and the only drink choices available to them at home are unhealthy then the message is undermined.

There are a number of preventive measures that are available to our children. All of these measures are aimed at helping keep decay off the teeth. When we talk to children about their teeth and preventing cavities we will often refer to bugs on the teeth. Now sometimes with children the truth may be stretched to get a message across but in this case the bugs are the truth. Let’s take a quick look at how a cavity forms. We start with a hard solid surface, enamel. In fact this enamel is the hardest substance in the body! When we eat foods that may stick to the teeth, for instance a Snickers Bar, the bacteria that normally live in our mouths land on the teeth and colonize there. These bacteria live on sugar. The more sugary foods we eat the more the bacterial invasion. Now these bacteria are enjoying the sugar in that Snickers Bar and as they ingest the sugar acid is produced. This acid lies on the hard enamel and breaks it down. Once there is enough breakdown a hole forms in the outer shell. Think of the tooth as an M&M with an extra liquid layer in the very middle. Once the acid gets through the shell and hits the softer inner the tooth breaks down seven times faster! If the bacteria get too far they get to the liquid center where the nerve is. It makes me cry to see children with cavities that are so deep they are into the nerve.

Now that you have an understanding of how a cavity forms, it is easy to see what are healthy food choices and what are not so healthy. I will be the first to admit to sticking my hands in the candy basket but it’s not an everyday occurrence and thorough brushing and flossing and rinsing will help. Think about soda and how it is a double whammy. You have the bacteria forming acid on the tooth and then the soda, regular or diet, that is extremely acidic and enamel is under a huge assault!

So why not start a trend in your family? Begin some new habits by making healthy choices for your children during Children’s Dental Health Month. Once you start with healthier choices, continue on. Don’t stop at the end of February. Reinforce what your children are being taught in school so they can have a better chance of excellent dental health.