Sealants Critical to Children’s Oral Health

Sealants are plastic coatings that protect those difficult to reach pits and grooves on the chewing surfaces of the teeth from the bacteria that cause tooth decay. A quick and painless procedure done in your dentist’s office, sealants are applied to the chewing surfaces of permanent molars as soon as possible after they fully erupt in the mouth, usually between the ages of six to eight for first molars and 10 to 12 for second molars. While sealants are not necessary for all children, they are particularly beneficial to children who are at higher risk for tooth decay. But, how do you know if your child is at higher risk?Although overall oral health risk is a combination of genetics, personal habits and diet, history of decay is a good predictor for future risk of decay. Your child is considered to be at higher risk if he or she has had a cavity filled in the past three years. The good news is you may be able to help prevent future cavities by making sure your child receives preventive care, including having sealants applied to first and second molars.

Although approximately 60 to 70 percent of cavities can be prevented by placing
sealants on children’s teeth, a recent study by Delta Dental shows that 60 percent of
children age 6 to 9 who are at higher risk of tooth decay did not receive sealants on
their first molars, and 80 percent of children age 11 to 15 did not receive sealants on
their second molars.1

Sealants Graphic

These figures are particularly striking when you realize that many dental plans cover preventive care, like sealants, at as much at 100 percent of the cost. As a parent, you want your child to be as healthy as possible, and that includes protecting their teeth. Delta Dental is here to help. Our myDentalScore risk assessment tool helps you better assess your child’s risk for oral disease by providing an easy to understand oral health scores report that you can use to consult with your dentist to determine the best treatment patterns for your child’s oral health needs. We also encourage you to take a look at your dental plan and make sure you are using preventive treatments to their full advantage – most are simple, painless and inexpensive. They can save your child from future pain and discomfort that often accompany cavities, and save you from paying for expensive fillings, crowns, or root canals.

To learn more about keeping all of the mouths in your life healthy, and to access the myDentalScore risk assessment tool, visit Delta Dental’s Oral Health Library at oralhealth.deltadental.com.

The Best and Worst Halloween Treats for Teeth

Little ghosts and goblins will trick-or-treat to collect as much candy as they can this Halloween, but it’s not just kids who will enjoy the treats. Nearly 80 percent of parents admit they eat their children’s Halloween candy, according to the Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey.1 But some candies have the potential to do more damage to teeth than others.

The best way to protect teeth from decay is to have candy in small portions at limited times, such as after a meal, as dessert or at regular snack times. Nearly 90 percent of parents say their kids consume Halloween candy this way.Choose candy that melts and disappears quickly. The longer teeth are exposed to sugar, the longer bacteria can feed on it, which could produce cavity-causing acid.

While no sweets are good for teeth, some are less harmful than others. We rated the best and worst treats for teeth on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being least harmful.

  1. Sugar-free candy and gum with xylitol                                                                   Sugar-free foods don’t contain sugar that can feed on the bacteria in the mouth and produce decay-causing acids. Gum and candy with xylitol may actually protect teeth by reducing the acids produced by bacteria and increasing saliva to rinse away excess sugars and acids.
  • Our survey says 44 percent of kids eat sugar-free candy at Halloween.1
  1. Powdery candy (such as sugar straws)                                                                     Sure, powdery candy is packed with pure sugar. But powdery candy dissolves quickly and doesn’t stick to the teeth.
  1. Chocolate (such as candy bars)                                                                             Chocolate dissolves quickly in the mouth and can be eaten easily, which decreases the amount of time sugar stays in contact with teeth. And calcium could help protect tooth enamel. However, chocolate with fillings, such as caramel and nuts, is a lot more harmful for teeth than the plain variety.
  • Our survey says 86 percent of kids eat chocolate at Halloween. 1
  1. Hard candy (such as lollipops or mints)                                                                     Hard candy is tough on teeth because it tends to be sucked on at a leisurely pace for an extended period of time. Plus, chomping down on hard candy can chip or break teeth.
  • Our survey says 50 percent of kids eat hard candy at Halloween. 1
  1. Chewy candy (such as caramels or gummies)                                                         Chewy, sticky treats are particularly damaging because they are high in sugar, spend a prolonged amount of time stuck to teeth and are more difficult for saliva to break down.
  • Our survey says 57 percent of kids eat chewy candy at Halloween. 1

Another way to protect teeth is to give kids something other than candy.  Nearly 25 percent of parents hand out non-candy items to trick-or-treaters, such as toys, money or fruit.1

For additional tips on how to help keep children’s teeth healthy during Halloween and all year long, visit the Tooth Fairy’s Halloween website at www.toothfairytrickytreats.com.

1 Morpace Inc. conducted the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted nationally via the Internet with 926 primary caregivers of children from birth to age 11. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of error is ±3.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

ACA’s Exchanges Offer Opportunity to Improve Dental Health

As the Affordable Care Act’s Exchanges begin to enroll people across the country, a seemingly minor provision in the law is bound to make a big difference in combating the most widespread disease children experience today: tooth decay.Federal legislators wanted to tackle this issue head-on, and saw fit to make children’s dental coverage one of the ten essential health benefits for people getting coverage on the Exchanges.

There are many options for new customers purchasing dental benefits for their kids on the Exchanges. Consumers will now be able to choose from stand-alone dental plans, which is the way dental benefits have traditionally been provided, and from health plans with dental coverage wrapped up inside.

In fact, besides health plans covering major medical benefits, stand-alone dental plans are the only other type of coverage that can be sold on the Affordable Care Act’s Exchanges. Our goal is to help parents get access to great coverage so they can get their kids to the dentist for the care they need. Delta Dental member companies are offering children’s plans in most of states across the country in 2014, with more offering coverage in their states in 2015.

Parents will be able to shop for dental coverage not only for their children, but also for themselves. Family plans can be sold on most Exchanges as long as the pediatric coverage is also included in the plan. Recent studies show that parents with dental plans go to the dentist.2 And when they do, they are likely to bring their children. Ultimately, we hope that Delta Dental and other carriers can do their part to reduce dental disease across the country.

1 Oral Health in America; A Report of the Surgeon General (Executive Summary). National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/datastatistics/surgeongeneral/report/executivesummary.htm 

2007 NADP Consumer Survey. National Association of Dental Plans. http://www.ineeddentalbenefits.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/nadpemployerwhitepaper.pdf

How to Handle Tooth Trauma

As children head back to school, it is important to remember that dental emergencies can happen any time, any place. According to the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey,1 one out of 10 children ages 10 or 11 have had a tooth emergency such as a knocked-out tooth, chipped tooth or a loosened permanent tooth at home or at school.

A knocked-out permanent tooth is a true dental emergency, and there’s a good chance it can be saved if you know what to do and act quickly. The primary concern should be getting the child in to see a dentist. Time is crucial if you want the dentist to be able to reinsert and salvage the natural tooth. Ideally, a child needs to be seen within 30 minutes of the accident.1

Whether a tooth is knocked out at school or home, here are several steps to ensure it is saved – or at least in optimal condition – by the time the child can see the dentist.

  • First, check to make sure the child doesn’t have a serious head, neck or other orofacial injury (i.e., a concussion, broken jaw, etc.).
  • Don’t worry about replacing a displaced baby tooth. Trying to reinsert it could damage the permanent pearly white coming in behind it.
  • To avoid infection, the tooth should be held by the crown, not the root. The crown is the part of the tooth visible to the naked eye. You want to leave the root intact, and touching it with bare hands could pass bacteria.2
  • Rinse any debris off of the tooth under room temperature water. Don’t scrub the root! Once the tooth is free of loose dirt and debris, try to reinsert it, asking the child to hold it in place using a piece of gauze if necessary. 3
  • If the tooth cannot be successfully reinserted, it needs to stay moist until the child can visit a dentist. Store the tooth in a clean container and cover it with milk or room temperature water to prevent it from drying out. 4 These liquids aren’t ideal but are often the only ones readily available. If you are a school nurse or your child frequently plays contact sports, purchase an emergency bag  handy with a save-a-tooth kit in it (available at most drugstores.) These contain a solution that is better at preserving any live cells on the tooth root until the dentist can put the tooth back into the socket.

In most cases, tooth injuries are not life threatening. But they can have long-lasting effects on the child’s appearance and self-confidence, so it is important to act quickly in the event of a dental emergency.

1Morpace Inc. conducted the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted nationally via the Internet with 926 primary caregivers of children from birth to age 11. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin error is ±3.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

2“Saving a Knocked-Out Tooth.” American Association of Endodontists. http://www.aae.org/patients/patientinfo/references/avulsed.htm. Accessed 2010.

3 “Medical Encyclopedia: Broken or Knocked Out Tooth.” U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, February 22, 2010. www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000058.htm. Accessed 2010.

4“Dental Emergencies.” American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/370.aspx Accessed 2010.

Are Sports Drinks as Harmful to Kids’ Teeth as Soda?

While kids play sports in the summer heat, they will be tempted to gulp down large sugary sports and energy drinks to stay cool. Swigging too many of these beverages, however, can harm a child’s teeth. Delta Dental advises parents to monitor and limit the number of these beverages their children are consuming to help prevent cavities.

Young athletes do need to replace fluids, carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes after hard exercise. But the high sugar and highly acidic content of sports drinks can increase a child’s susceptibility to tooth decay and enamel erosion if too much is consumed.

Like soda, energy and sports drinks contain high levels of acidity and high concentrations of sugar. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that 12 ounces of a leading brand of cola and a leading brand of energy drink each contained 42 grams of sugar, while a leading sports drink contained 21 grams of sugar.1 According to a University of Iowa study, a leading sports drink had the greatest erosion potential on both enamel and roots of teeth when compared to leading brands of energy drinks, soda and apple juice.2

Sugar itself doesn’t rot teeth, but rather, the acid that is produced when sugar mixes with certain bacteria in the mouth. Decay forms around the parts of the tooth where the plaque accumulates. The high acid from the drinks themselves can also have an erosive effect on the whole surface of the tooth. Sugary, acidic drinks are particularly damaging when they are sipped frequently throughout the day because they spend a prolonged amount of time washed over the teeth.

Instead of buying the 32 or 64 ounce bottles of sports drink, limit kids to a single 12 to16 ounce bottle. Encourage kids to consume as much water as they do sports drink. Drinking water will help them stay hydrated during outdoor activities and make sure any residual sports drink doesn’t linger on their teeth. Another option is to dilute the sports drink with water to lower the concentration of acidity and sugar. If your kids find water boring, consider adding slices of orange, lemon or cucumber to make it more appealing. Interestingly enough, recent studies suggest that low-fat chocolate milk may be as good as a sports drink at promoting recovery between workouts.3

1 Harvard School of Public Health. How Sweet Is It? Accessed June 2012.http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/how-sweet-is-it/index.html

2 University of Iowa College of Dentistry. Acidic Beverages Increase the Risk of In Vitro Tooth Erosion. Accessed June 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2516950/

3 Spaccarotella KJ, Andzel WD.  Building a beverage for recovery from endurance activity: a review. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Nov;25(11):3198-204.

Ignorance Not Blissful for Your Children’s Oral Health

“What you don’t know won’t hurt you” is a popular idiom that couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to personal health. In fact, parents’ lack of knowledge about certain common at-home habits could jeopardize their children’s oral health.

For instance, nearly half of American children under age 3 have never seen the dentist, according to the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey.1 What many parents don’t realize is the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child go to the dentist by age 1 or within six months after their first tooth erupts.2

Parents should take children to the dentist by age 1 to establish a trusting relationship with the dentist and receive critical oral health care advice. Studies show that early preventive dental care can save in future dental treatment costs.

Fill bottles with water, not juice or milk
Nearly 50 percent of caregivers with a child 4 years old or younger report that the child sometimes takes a nap or goes to bed with a bottle or sippy cup containing milk or juice. This bad habit can lead to early childhood (baby bottle) tooth decay.

Ideally, children should finish a bottle before they are put down to sleep. But if they must have something to comfort them while they go to sleep, fill a bottle with water. Don’t get in the habit of providing sweet drinks because you think it will please your child.  Of course, most children do like sweets, but babies and toddlers want the soothing, repetitive action of sucking on a bottle more than sweetened drinks.

Avoid sharing food and utensils with children
Did you know that caregivers can actually pass harmful bacteria from their mouth to a child’s mouth, which can put the child at an increased risk for cavities? Bacteria are passed when items contaminated with saliva go into a child’s mouth. Typically, this takes place through natural, parental behaviors, such as sharing eating utensils or cleaning off your baby’s pacifier with your mouth. Parents with a history of poor oral health are particularly likely to pass germs along.

However, three out of every four caregivers say they share utensils such as a spoon, fork or glass with a child. Caregivers of children ages 2 to 3 are most likely to share utensils with their children.

For additional tips to help keep children’s teeth healthy during National Smile Month and all year long, visit www.oralhealth.deltadental.com.

Morpace Inc. conducted the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted nationally via the Internet with 926 primary caregivers of children from birth to age 11. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of error is ±3.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

2 American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry – Policy on the Dental Home. http://www.aapd.org/media/Policies_Guidelines/P_DentalHome.pdf

Don’t Pass on Your Dentophobia

Parents who are afraid to visit the dentist may pass the same fear on to their children, possibly keeping them from getting routine dental check-ups that are important to promote healthy teeth and a lifetime of good oral health habits.

That’s one of the key findings from a survey of children’s oral health1 conducted on behalf of Delta Dental, the nation’s leading dental benefits provider. On average, the survey found that nearly 30 percent of children are afraid to visit the dentist. But when their parents also fear the dentist, that number jumped to almost 40 percent. Conversely, just 24 percent of children whose parents are unafraid of the dentist were still fearful of dental visits themselves.

The top reason parents say their children are afraid to visit the dentist is due to painful or sensitive teeth (17 percent). Other explanations include the noise and smell (11 percent), drills and dental equipment (10 percent), and shots and needles (9 percent).

During National Mental Health Month, Delta Dental offers parents and caregivers three simple tips to help children feel more comfortable in the dentist’s chair:

  • Start young: It’s recommended that children visit the dentist within six months of getting their first tooth – and no later than their first birthday. Starting at a young age allows children and parents to establish trust with a dentist and begin a routine of regular dental visits.
  • Keep it simple and positive: If children ask questions before a visit to the dentist, avoid using words that could make them scared, such as drill, shot or filling, or counseling them that it won’t hurt, since they often aren’t aware it could hurt in the first place. Instead, explain that the dentist is simply going to check their smile and count their teeth. Try not to discuss any negative experience that you might have had so your child can form their own opinion through personal experience.
  • Call ahead: Tell the dentist ahead of time that your child may be anxious about the visit. Most pediatric dental offices will have toys or music that children can focus on instead of the appointment itself, helping them relax and making a trip to the dentist a fun and enjoyable experience.

Parents need to help children understand why visiting the dentist is so important and help make their visits as comfortable as possible. Kids who have negative experiences at the dentist may be less inclined to make regular visits as teenagers and grown adults.

1 Morpace Inc. conducted the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted nationally via the Internet with 926 primary caregivers of children from birth to age 11. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of error is ±3.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

The Tooth Fairy Loosened Her Purse Strings in 2012

How much are kids getting for lost baby teeth these days? The average gift from the Tooth Fairy was $2.42 last year, up 32 cents from $2.10 in 2011, according to The Original Tooth Fairy Poll® sponsored by Delta Dental.1 The most common amount left under the pillow was $1 (51 percent).

According to the poll, the Tooth Fairy was even more generous with kids who lost their first tooth, leaving more money for the first tooth in 46 percent of homes. On average, the amount given for the first tooth was $3.49.

Leaving gifts from the Tooth Fairy is a great way to help make losing teeth less scary and enjoyable for kids. Delta Dental encourages parents to use the Tooth Fairy as an opportunity to talk about good oral health even before a child loses the first tooth. Caring for baby teeth is important, as they help children chew and speak properly and hold space for permanent teeth.

In 2012, the Tooth Fairy visited nearly 90 percent of U.S. homes with children who lost a tooth. Delta Dental suggests the following ways parents can use the Tooth Fairy as a teachable moment:

• 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 the Tooth Fairy is more generous 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. And, of course, parents should give the Tooth Fairy a special name. After all, Flossie or Twinkle is a bit more exciting than just Tooth Fairy!

• Give oral health gifts. Although the Tooth Fairy left cash for kids in 98 percent of homes she visited, two percent of children received toys, candy, gum or other gifts. Consider forgoing cash and providing oral health gifts instead, like a new toothbrush or fun-flavored toothpaste. For readers, there are numerous children’s books about Tooth Fairy adventures in bookstores or online. The days of jamming a tiny tooth underneath a huge pillow and making the Tooth Fairy blindly grope around under a heavy sleeping head are gone. Special pillows with tiny, tooth-sized pockets attached are now available online, with themes ranging from princesses to ninjas and beyond. Some of the pillows can even be customized with your little gap-toothed child’s name. Or if a parent, er, ahem, the Tooth Fairy, is feeling generous, kids could receive both cash and a new toothbrush.

For more information, visit http://www.theoriginaltoothfairypoll.com. To get a sense of the taste and style choices of the Tooth Fairy and for some fun ideas, parents can follow her on Pinterest at http://www.pinterest.com/origtoothfairy.

Wearing the Wires: Kids and Braces

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Once upon a time, kids who wore braces were teased by their peers with mean-spirited nicknames such as brace face, tinsel teeth, zipper lips and metal mouth. These days, however, braces have become seemingly as ubiquitous as eyeglasses, almost a rite of passage for American youth in their formative years. Studies have estimated anywhere from 50-70 percent of American children will wear braces between the ages of 6-18.

Children from ages 6-18 (and even some adults) typically get braces to correct malocclusions (i.e., bad bites). These jaw or tooth alignment problems are usually genetic, but can result from an injury, early or late tooth loss or thumb-sucking.1 Historically, most children started wearing braces in their early- and into mid-adolescent years, after all of their permanent teeth had erupted (ages 11-15), but in more recent years there has been a trend towards earlier intervention to take advantage of high rates of growth and to correct certain conditions that might otherwise adversely affect growth and development. Crowded, poorly-positioned teeth not only affect a child’s appearance, but can negatively impact the way a child bites, chews and speaks, and can increase the long-term potential for developing periodontal disease or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems.1

Whether or not they have braces, kids should always eat a healthy diet. In general, however, kids with braces should avoid foods that are difficult to bite off or chew, that may damage the braces, or that are difficult to clean from around the wires and attachment brackets. Foods like popcorn, corn on the cob, whole apples, sunflower seeds and sticky candy fall into these categories. It is also not a good idea to chew on ice, pencils or any other oral habits that can bend the wires or otherwise damage the appliances that go into moving teeth into proper position.2 Eating too many sticky and sugary foods is particularly damaging to children with braces, since plaque tends to build-up around the appliances and can lead to decay where the brackets are attached to the teeth.

Standard oral health care best practices apply to all children – with or without braces. This includes brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily, wearing a properly fitting mouthguard during contact sports, and making regular dental visits. Obviously brushing and flossing presents some challenges while wearing braces but the child’s dental team will usually provide the proper guidance on facing the challenges to good oral hygiene that wearing braces can present. This may include things like using fluoride rinses, floss threaders, interproximal cleaners, powered brushes or irrigators, dental wax and other tips for keeping the braces and teeth clean and wearing them comfortably.

A child’s teeth are often sore for a day or two after the braces are first put on or after an adjustment appointment. In addition, other typical problems that children may have to deal with include food caught between the teeth and appliance, one or more of the little rubber bands break that hold the wires to the bracket, a wire breaks and pokes into the cheek, a sore develops on the cheek or gum where something is rubbing.

1.American Dental Association. “Braces” http://www.mouthhealthy.org/az-topics/b/braces.aspx
2.American Dental Association 2010 Survey of Dental Practice
3.American Association of Orthodontists. http://www.mylifemysmile.org/faq

New Survey: Kids Need Brushing up on Oral Health

Although cavities are nearly 100 percent preventable, more than one out of four American caregivers reported that their children had a cavity filled in the past year. This was among the findings of a new survey1 of nearly 1,000 caregivers released today by Delta Dental in conjunction with National Children’s Dental Health Month. Among children who had a cavity in the past year, 53 percent had two or more cavities.

The 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey shows that not only are Americans unaware they can pass cavity-causing bacteria to children, but they also need to brush up on some critical children’s dental health habits, including basics such as brushing and flossing.

Parents and caregivers need to teach good oral health habits to children at a young age to help prevent cavities. Baby teeth are very important. They help children chew and speak properly and hold space for permanent teeth. If a child has healthy baby teeth, chances are he or she will have healthy adult teeth.

These are some of the oral health habits that fall short of what’s recommended by dental professionals:

• Survey shows: Seventy-five percent of caregivers say they share utensils such as a spoon, fork, or glass with a child.
• Delta Dental recommends: Parents and caregivers should eliminate saliva-transferring behaviors – such as sharing utensils and toothbrushes and cleaning a pacifier with their mouths – all activities which can pass harmful bacterial to a child.

• Survey shows: Forty-nine percent of Americans with a child four years or younger report that the child sometimes takes a nap or goes to bed with a bottle or sippy cup containing milk or juice.
• Delta Dental recommends: Parents and caregivers should not put a child to bed with a bottle of milk, juice, sweetened water or soft drinks, which can lead to baby bottle decay. Instead, caregivers should fill the bottle with water.

• Survey shows: For children who have visited the dentist, the average age at the first visit was 3 years old.
• Delta Dental recommends: Children should first visit the dentist within six months of getting the first tooth – and no later than the first birthday.

• Survey shows: Only 58 percent of children had their teeth brushed twice a day and 34 percent of children brush for less than two minutes.
• Delta Dental recommends: Children’s teeth should be brushed twice a day for at least two minutes each time. Parents should assist with this task until the kids are about 6 years old.

• Survey shows: Forty-three percent of parents or caregivers report that their children’s teeth are never flossed, and of children whose teeth are flossed, only 23 percent are flossed daily.
• Delta Dental recommends: Once any two teeth are touching, caregivers should floss, or help the child floss, once a day.

1 Morpace Inc. conducted the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted nationally via the Internet with 926 primary caregivers of children from birth to age 11. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of error is ±3.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.