“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 6 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,” said Dr. Bill Kohn, DDS, Delta Dental’s vice president of dental science and policy. “Studies show that early preventive dental care can save in future dental treatment costs.”
Fill bottles with water, not juice or milk
Nearly 50% 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.
However, 3 out of every 4 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.
“Babies are actually born without any harmful bacteria in their mouth. But once the teeth start to erupt decay-causing bacteria can colonize in the mouth, and children become more prone to cavities in baby and permanent teeth,” Dr. Kohn said. “Parents with a history of poor oral health are particularly likely to pass germs along.”
 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