Don’t overlook important oral health habits for young children

February is Children’s Dental Health Month, a great time to remember that a child’s dental health is set in motion from a very young age. Tooth decay can develop any time after the first tooth comes in, starting around 6 months old, and good habits should begin even earlier.

Only 28 percent of American parents would give their kids an “A” grade for oral health, according to a new survey of American children’s dental health by Delta Dental.1 In fact, nearly nine of 10 parents (86 percent) say their children’s oral health isn’t as good as it could be.

A majority of parents (51 percent) understand that oral care habits – rather than genetics or what their kids eat – are most responsible for their children’s oral health. Yet, almost one-third of children don’t brush twice daily, and 61 percent of children don’t floss daily.

The Delta Dental survey indicates that these poor habits start early, and American parents may be contributing to their children’s tooth decay long before they can brush or floss on their own.

Children’s baby teeth need to be brushed

As soon as a child’s first tooth comes in, it should be brushed. But 63 percent of American parents didn’t begin brushing for their children at this time. Instead, they waited until there were a few or even a full set of teeth.

The first tooth – and all subsequent teeth – should be brushed gently with a soft, child-sized toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste twice a day until age 2. A small, pea-sized amount of toothpaste should be used from ages 2 to 6. Even before children get the first tooth, the mouth and gums should be wiped with a soft, damp cloth or infant toothbrush after feedings.

Poorly established brushing habits have helped contribute to so many kids having cavities. These habits set a foundation for children as they get older. It’s important for parents to get their children in a routine as soon as the first tooth appears, so they don’t question the habit later on.

Children’s bottles and sippy cups at naptime and bedtime should be filled with water

Many parents don’t know that children shouldn’t be put to bed with a bottle or sippy cup, unless it contains water. But, 46 percent of parents with children under age 3 put their child down for a nap or bedtime with a bottle or sippy cup containing milk or juice at least once a week or more.

Fruit juice, and even plain milk, can be harmful to young kids’ oral health. Both beverages have many grams of sugar that, when left to bathe on teeth at naptime or overnight, can result in tooth decay.

Parents should only fill bottles or sippy cups with water, except at meal and snack times. And anytime children are given sugary beverages or snacks, teeth should be either rinsed with water or brushed afterward.

Some other important habits for healthy smiles:

  • Once any two teeth are touching, parents should floss, or help the child floss, once a day.
  • Children should first visit the dentist within six months of getting the first tooth – and no later than the first birthday.
  • Parents should eliminate saliva-transferring behaviors – such as sharing utensils and toothbrushes and cleaning a pacifier with their mouths – which are all activities that can pass harmful bacteria to a child.

1 Kelton, a leading global insights firm, conducted the 2015 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted nationally via email with 1,325 parents of children ages 12 and under from Dec. 2, 2014 to Jan. 2, 2015. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of error is ±2.7 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Big Game, Big Taste: Healthy Super Bowl Snacks

Whether you watch for the football, the halftime show or the advertisements, you’re probably getting ready for the big game – and that usually means a big menu. Instead of opting for the usual game day treats, try one of these tooth-friendly substitutions for a pigskin party that’s delicious and nutritious.

Chicken wings, minus the sweet BBQ sauce.

If the sauce is sweet, it’s likely loaded with brown sugar. Instead, opt for a mustard- or vinegar-based wing sauce. If you prefer spicy wings, try using spicy brown mustard. For an exotic twist, make a sauce with curry spice and yogurt.[1]

White bean dip.

For a healthier veggie dip, try making your own with a can of cannellini (white kidney) beans, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and rosemary. Beans are full of fiber, which keeps you full longer and deters food cravings. They’re also rich in antioxidants.[2] Check online for a quick and easy recipe.

Deviled eggs.

Phosphorous helps build enamel – and eggs happen to be a very good source of the mineral.[3] Deviled eggs are always a crowd pleaser. To add an extra tooth-boosting oomph to yours, skip the mayo and mix mustard with Greek yogurt instead. Yogurt is a great way to get the recommended daily amount of calcium.[4]

Swap a few of your usual appetizers out for some of these, and you’ll be celebrating a healthy mouth long after the touchdowns are scored.





Colds, Coughs… and Cavities?

You’re probably aware that candy leads to cavities and sugary drinks can also cause decay. But cough syrup? Unfortunately, it’s true – certain syrupy medications can cause tooth troubles, especially if they’re consistently taken over a long period of time.

The antihistamine syrups you can buy over-the-counter to help you and your kids combat the flu or allergies often have high acidity and low pH levels. These medications can also contain sugar to help with the taste. Combined, those factors are like a one-two punch for teeth, working together to dissolve tooth enamel and cause erosion.[1]

Don’t worry – we’re not suggesting you suffer through seasonal ailments without any relief. Just follow these four tips to make sure the medicine doesn’t do more harm than good.

  • Avoid taking syrup medication right before bed. Since saliva flow naturally decreases at night, the residue won’t rinse away like it would during the day.
  • If there’s no way around a bedtime dose, make sure to rinse with water afterward.
  • Try to take medications with meals. Chewing increases saliva flow, which helps wash away sugars and acids.
  • Talk to your child’s dentist about a topical fluoride, which helps keep decay at bay.[2]

 With the proper precautions and good oral health habits, you’ll be able to keep colds, coughs and cavities away this season!



Little evidence to support benefits of oil pulling

If you follow health or celebrity news you’ve likely heard the buzz on the latest natural health craze to hit the internet: Oil Pulling.

As the name suggests, the practice involves using about a tablespoon of oil – typically sesame or coconut, preferably organic – as a mouthwash. The oil is swished and “pulled” through the mouth for upwards of 20 minutes per session before being spit out into the trash. This ancient Hindu Ayurvedic medicine remedy is said to have a laundry list of health benefits, among which are common dental health concerns: preventing tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath as well as whitening teeth.

While there are numerous articles with claims and personal stories supporting the practice of oil pulling, there is little scientific evidence to support these assertions. There is, however, significant evidence that a preventive oral care routine including brushing teeth for about two minutes twice daily with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily and visiting a dentist regularly can prevent dental disease.

There is likely little harm in trying oil pulling, other than possible discomfort from the lengthy swishing process. If you do decide to try this or any other alternative medicine or natural remedy, we encourage you to consider it a complement to a proven preventive dental care routine. You may also want to check with your physician or dentist to make sure that alternative practices will not interfere with any medications or affect other problems that you may have.

Three reasons to smile during National Smile Month

Just in time for National Smile Month, we present three reasons to smile:

1. Smile for Beauty’s Sake: According to a survey of more than 1,000 Americans nationwide, a smile is the most important physical feature that contributes to a person’s overall attractiveness. Nearly one-half of Americans (47 percent) cited the smile as the most important physical feature, followed by eyes (27 percent) and physique (16 percent). Men and women agreed on the order, though women said they put more emphasis on a person’s eyes.

2. Smile for Success: More than six of 10 Americans (64 percent) say a smile has some bearing on a person’s overall success.

3. Smile with Satisfaction: More than six of 10 Americans (64 percent) say they like their smile, and almost a third (31 percent) wouldn’t change a thing about it. Those who would change their smile most frequently cited cosmetic improvements such as whitening or straightening of teeth.

So get out there and celebrate National Smile Month with a smile – for whatever reason you choose!

Morpace, Inc. conducted the Delta Dental Oral Health and Well-Being Survey on behalf of Delta Dental with 1,003 consumers across the United States.

Use the Tooth Fairy as a teaching tool

In 2013, the Tooth Fairy visited 86 percent of U.S. homes with children who lost a tooth. What kid doesn’t love a magical fairy that leaves goodies beneath their pillow? This built-in goodwill towards and interest in the Tooth Fairy opens the door for parents to use this little lady as a teaching tool when it comes to the importance of oral health.

In honor of National Tooth Fairy Day (February 28) here are a few suggestions for ways to use the Tooth Fairy to teach kids about good dental health habits:

  • Introduce the Tooth Fairy early on. Kids will start losing baby teeth around age 6. Before this age, parents can teach kids about the Tooth Fairy and let them know that good oral health habits and healthy teeth make her happy. Use this as an opportunity to brush up on a child’s everyday dental routine. Kids not wanting to brush and floss? Remind them that the Tooth Fairy is only looking for healthy baby teeth, not teeth with cavities. This will help get kids excited about taking care of their teeth.
  • Leave a note reinforcing good habits. A personalized note from the Tooth Fairy could be nearly as exciting for kids as the gift itself. Parents should include tips for important oral health habits that the Tooth Fairy wants kids to practice, such as brushing twice a day, flossing once a day and visiting the dentist twice a year. In fact, we’ve created some sample letters to get you started!
  • Give oral health gifts. Although the Tooth Fairy left cash for kids in 99 percent of homes she visited, a few children received toys, gum or other gifts. Consider forgoing cash and reinforce good oral health habits by providing a new toothbrush with their favorite cartoon character or fun-flavored toothpaste. How about a new book? There are several children’s books about Tooth Fairy adventures that can add to the Tooth Fairy excitement. Also gone are the days of worrying about not being able to find the tiny tooth under your child’s pillow in the middle of the night. Special Tooth Fairy pillows with tiny, tooth-sized pockets attached are now available in many themes and can even be customized with your child’s name. But if the family tradition has always included money, you don’t have to stop. Consider giving both cash and a new toothbrush to reinforce good oral health habits.

DDPA Tooth Fairy 2013 Poll Infographic web 2014For more information and ways to make your child’s Tooth Fairy experience extra special, visit

How Many Dental X-Rays Do Your Kids Need?

Young Teen at DentistFebruary is National Children’s Dental Health Month, the perfect time to take your kids to the dentist for one of their regular visits. But before you do, Delta Dental encourages you to be well-informed about how often your child should have dental X-rays.

The purpose of X-rays is to allow dentists to see signs of disease or potential problems that are not visible to the naked eye. They are should be suggested after the dentist has done a clinical exam and considered any signs and symptoms, oral and medical history, diet, hygiene, fluoride use and other factors that might suggest a higher risk of hidden dental disease.

However, all X-rays use ionizing radiation that can potentially cause damage. Though it is spread out in tiny doses, the effect of radiation from years of X-rays is cumulative. The risks associated with this radiation are greater for children than for adults. So be sure that your dentist checks your child’s teeth, health history and risk factors before deciding an X-ray is necessary.

“X-rays are an important tool for dentists to diagnose dental diseases. However, they do not need to be part of every exam,” said Dr. Bill Kohn, DDS, Delta Dental Plans Association’s vice president of dental science and policy. “They should be ordered only after the dentist has examined the mouth and has determined that X-rays are needed to make a proper diagnosis. In general, children and adults at low risk for tooth decay and gum disease need X-rays less frequently.”

Ideally, your dentist should adhere to the guidelines established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Dental Association. The following chart, adapted from those guidelines, gives a basic timeline for recommended frequency of X-rays by age group. Keep in mind that multiple factors such as the child’s current oral health, future risk for disease, and developmental stage determine need, and some children will require more X-rays, and some fewer.


First visit

Routine recall visit

Routine recall visit

Active tooth decay or   history of cavities (Increased Risk)

No active tooth decay   or history of cavities (Low Risk)

Young children(ages 1 – 5),   with no permanent teeth Personalized exam which may consist of bitewing X-rays of back teeth (if no gaps exist between teeth that allow the dentist to examine the sides of teeth) and select individual X-rays, usually of front teeth. Bitewing X-rays every six to 12 months Bitewing X-rays every 12 to 24 months
Older children (ages 6 – 12), with some or all permanent teeth Personalized exam consisting of bitewing X-rays of back teeth and select individual X-rays, usually of front teeth; or a panoramic X-ray. Bitewing X-rays every six to 18 months Bitewing X-rays every 12 to 36 months
Adolescent, with permanent teeth but no wisdom teeth Personalized exam consisting of   bitewing X-rays of back teeth and select individual X-rays; or a panoramic X-ray; or a full mouth survey of X-rays if evidence of widespread oral disease. Bitewing X-rays every six to 18 months Bitewing X-rays every 12 to 36 months

Many people believe that if their dental plan pays for a certain number of X-rays, they should take advantage of that benefit. For most patients, however, this yearly X-ray exposure is excessive and unnecessary. Don’t let your insurance coverage dictate your decision. If you have questions or concerns related to dental X-rays, discuss them with your dentist.


Source: MedicalImaging/MedicalX-Rays/UCM329746.pdf  (Accessed February 11, 2014).