fail safe way to prevent children's cavities?
July 15, 2010 11:11 AM   Subscribe

I brush my children's teeth twice a day. They only drink water, never soft drinks of fruit juices or stuff like that. Candy is a rare treat. They're 3 and 1. Is this enough to prevent cavities?

Today I was hanging out with a friend whose kids, 4 and 6 years old, have some cavities. She claimed that she brushes her teeth regularly twice a day and that her daughter's front teeth have a horrible cavity in between them because as a toddler she always used to fall face on the ground and cracked the enamel of these teeth. She had no explanation for the boy's cavity.
I am terrified. I thought brushing was enough, and I actually believe her when she says she keeps their teeth clean.
I had cavities as a kid and hence many many dental problems as an adult. I don't want that for my kids!!!
posted by uauage to Health & Fitness (61 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Actually, your enemy here is starch.

Bread, potatoes, pasta, chips, cookies, popcorn, crackers, etc. All these stick to teeth and in between them and do the exact same things as candy.

Brush and floss and don't freak out over one or two cavities. They happen.
posted by royalsong at 11:14 AM on July 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Some people produce more plaque than others and are more disposed to cavities, some are less so. Cavities as a kid, now, shouldn't lead to any dental problems as an adult, though -- I suppose they used to, but they've gotten better at dealing with these things. And I don't think that cavities on baby teeth should make any long-term difference at all -- the teeth were gonna go anyway, they just maybe will go sooner than they were supposed to...
posted by brainmouse at 11:15 AM on July 15, 2010

Flossing is important, as is flouridated toothpaste [you don't mention if you're doing that] and fruits and other foods can leave deposits on teeth that are conducive to plaque growth. There is also such a thing as overbrushing where you're too hard on the enamel particularly at the area where the tooth meets the gum and that can contribute to gum issues later on. Some problems, as I understand it, are more genetics than behavior. Talk to your childrens' dentist about this for a professional opinion. While it's a great idea to teach your kids to take care of their teeth as youngsters, absolute fear of cavities isn't that healthy either.
posted by jessamyn at 11:16 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

And I don't think that cavities on baby teeth should make any long-term difference at all -- the teeth were gonna go anyway, they just maybe will go sooner than they were supposed to...

Yeah, what's the deal here? Baby teeth will fall out regardless. Once the permanent teeth come in, you can't do much more than brush 2x day, floss and mouthwash 1x day. Maybe rinse with water after eating. But people will get cavities, period, and that's why we have dentists.
posted by The Michael The at 11:19 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

People will probably post here with some great advice, but I really don't think there's a fail-safe way to prevent cavities. I have been very lucky to have excellent top-of-the-line dental care my whole life because I have a dentist in the family. I brush my teeth twice a day and floss every single day. There was a period of my life back when I had braces when I didn't floss religiously because it was really annoying, but other than that, my dental hygiene is excellent. I don't drink soda, I don't eat a whole lot of sugary candy, or do most of the other things that wear down enamel.

I got my first cavity when I was 20. Followed by six more over the next year.

Just make sure they go in for regular checkups, and follow whatever advice your dentist gives you. And whatever you do, don't obsess over the teeth in front of your kids, because you could give them the idea when they're a little older that brushing is an annoying chore. You don't want it to become a fighting issue.
posted by phunniemee at 11:20 AM on July 15, 2010

Some people just get more cavities than other people. I have always gotten cavities completely irrespective of my dental health behaviors. It's a pain in the ass. It's also, seemingly anyway, genetic. You may have bad-teeth genes. It happens.

If that IS the case, however, you can get your kids' teeth sealed when their adult teeth are all in. My friend has deep crevices in her teeth - so cavity prone - and had hers sealed when she was younger - she has far fewer dental problems than I do.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:22 AM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Some people produce more plaque than others and are more disposed to cavities, some are less so.

Anecdotally, I've seen the same thing. I took terrible care of my teeth as a kid and ate all of the aforementioned junk food, and I never had any cavities. It seems to run in my family. Meanwhile some of my childhood friends who had health-food concious parents and were more vigilant about brushing and flossing got cavities all the time.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:23 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Enamel strength and susceptibility to dental caries (cavities) is partly genetic. Unfortunately, if you were prone to cavities as a child, you may have passed that susceptibility on to your children. Obviously, keep brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist regularly. But don't be "terrified" about dental health. It's at least partly out of your control, and a few cavities are not the worst thing in the world.
posted by decathecting at 11:24 AM on July 15, 2010

Oh, and I highly recommend Wild Flossers for teaching your kids to floss their teeth themselves. They have big grips and are easy to hold onto, they're easy to get in between the teeth, and they're colorful and have crazy animals all over them. They're great. Much less traumatizing than trying to wrap floss around tiny fingers and possibly jamming it into their gums.
posted by phunniemee at 11:24 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know people who never floss, who drink soft drinks with sugar all the time, and who have never had cavities in their lives. I also know people who are fastidious about dental hygiene and diet and have a number of cavities.

I hate to bring you down, but one of the largest factors in the condition of your teeth and how they wear really seems to be genetics. Just do the right things, and don't sweat it. Your kids are going to end up with the teeth they have.
posted by mikeh at 11:24 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is the water they drink fluoridated? (i.e. public water supply instead of bottled) Fluoride is added to the water supply to help reduce tooth decay.
posted by cecic at 11:25 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sometimes its a matter of genetics - the make up of their teeth. But here's the thing: the teeth they have now are teeth they will only have for the first few years of their lives. Doing what you're doing is a good idea because it'll get your kids in the habit of taking care of their teeth. When you're kids' adult teeth come in, take them to the dentist and have him/her apply sealants to your kids teeth. I had it done when i was little (around 9 years old), and i've never had a cavity (i'm now 33). Current dentists tell me the sealant is still there, but its not something i can even see or feel. The other thing to do is find out if the water in your area is fluoridated. If it's not, talk to your dentist about what can be done as a substitute.
posted by Kololo at 11:28 AM on July 15, 2010

Do they drink municipal water or bottled water? The lack of fluoridation in bottled water can be problematic, according to the CDC. Also look at this article for some good dental advice in general, including some specifically about kids. Finally, are your kids going to the dentist yet? That would be your best source of advice on maintaining good oral health. A good one will be happy to spend a little time talking to you about this.
posted by TedW at 11:28 AM on July 15, 2010

I meant this article.
posted by TedW at 11:29 AM on July 15, 2010

I've heard that cavities in milk teeth interfere with the correct development of permanent teeth, and this has been true in my case. I needed braces and many other interventions. My husband never had a cavity and never needed braces FWIW.

We use a special children's toothpaste with fluoride. Flossing a child? yeah right!
posted by uauage at 11:29 AM on July 15, 2010

Yeah, genetics. My mom has so much metal in her mouth it's a miracle she doesn't set off security scanners, but my dad, my siblings, and myself have never had a cavity in our lives. We're all reasonably diligent about brushing, not terribly diligent about flossing. We're just lucky.

It sounds like you're doing the right things to make your children less susceptible to cavities, but ultimately they are impossible to categorically prevent. It's just life.
posted by valkyryn at 11:31 AM on July 15, 2010

Have you taken the kids to a pediatric dentist yet?

Please do. Because a familiarity and comfort with going to the dentist are very important.

Be there in the room with your kids. Let them leave the chair when they want to (ahem, no restraining wiggly or anxious kids for a mouth groping!), and make it clear that the dentist is a normal, awesome, not scary, and shame free place to go.

And if a dentist ever tries to shame your kid, fire the god damn dentist.

Some people are more cavity prone than others. Once your kid has a cavity, shame isn't going to fix anything.

(I am not a dentist. I have never been a dentist. I used to manage a dental office. So many of our patients had fear of dentistry because of terrible childhood dental experiences. Remember that children and adults perceive things differently. If your child says something is scary, acknowledge, validate, and correct the situation. Do not negate your child's emotions. Because if you tell a scared child that there is nothing to be afraid of, the fear doesn't go away, it gets magnified by shame!)

So. Yes, as others have said above. In the direct 'cavity prevention' sense, the answer is a big 'maybe' depending on your kids' teeth.

But for the long term, twice yearly visits to the dentist are a habit to start early, and to be extra careful about making those visits pleasant (as opposed to 'not miserable'. Pleasant and not miserable are potentially different categories. You know your children best, so how to accomplish pleasant is up to you and them.)
posted by bilabial at 11:31 AM on July 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

Nthing the "don't discount genetics" line.

Although I don't any more, I regularly had sugary drinks and plenty of starches as a kid. Never brushed more than once a day, in the morning. These days, I sometimes forget the morning brushing. I'm 29 and have never had a cavity.

That said, I did get the sealants that Kololo talks about, so maybe it's them.
posted by kavasa at 11:32 AM on July 15, 2010

I have never heard that. I don't think cavities affect whether or not you need braces at all. Have you ever actually seen anything official that says that or is it just anecdotal? It would take a lot to convince me that that was true.
posted by brainmouse at 11:32 AM on July 15, 2010

Nthing genetics. My husband had cavities galore as a child (as did his parents) and I have never had even one (and my mom and dad have probably had three in their life combined). We both needed orthodontia til we were blue in the face. And both of our mothers were the brushing/flossing/no sugar kinds of moms. He was merely unlucky. I hate to break it to you, but I really don't think there is anything you can do that will be 100% effective at keeping your kids from getting cavities. But what you are doing has to help. Not to mention it helps them develop good habits that will help them when they do get permanent teeth.

It's like stretch marks-the best way to avoid getting stretch marks is be born to a woman that has never had stretch marks. Genetic roll of the dice.
posted by supercapitalist at 11:37 AM on July 15, 2010

Fluoride in the water supply makes a huge difference, and so does getting sealants applied to the permanent molars, when they come in. My kids are 13 and 18 have never had a dental cavity, either one of them, not even when my younger son had braces (which came off only recently). It may also have helped that I never gave them much juice to drink, and never gave them soda. However, I never did manage to get them to brush regularly in the morning before school, and I'm afraid they have never flossed much.

Some kids will get cavities anyway, even if you do everything right, but that's a big deal only if you don't get the cavities filled. Take your kids to the dentist every six months for a cleaning and checkup. We took our kids to a pediatric dentist who never made them uncomfortable or afraid.
posted by Ery at 11:39 AM on July 15, 2010


When baby teeth are lost too early due to extractions from a decay, a tooth gap develops which disrupts the proper spacing and correct alignment of the other teeth in the jaw arch.

This leads to drifting of the teeth into the gap,which then may lead to the blocking of the path of the adult teeth that are coming through at a specific time.This can lead to crowding and misalignment of the adult teeth in later on adult life.Orthodontics (braces) may later be required to correct such crowding as a consequence of such early tooth loss.

From this site.
posted by uauage at 11:43 AM on July 15, 2010

I needed braces and many other interventions. My husband never had a cavity and never needed braces FWIW.

These are not necessarily causal relationships. It's possible that severe dental neglect in children (as you point to) can cause ongoing problems, but I have never heard [nor do I believe] that there is a relationship between a simple cavity and adult tooth developmental problems that would require something like braces. I had braces and a fair amount of cavities [regular brusher, no flouridated water] and I needed braces because I had too many teeth and a very small mouth. You seem to have some misunderstandings about proper dental care. Please talk to a dental professional.
posted by jessamyn at 11:44 AM on July 15, 2010

Ok, I guess that's not outside the realm of possibility, but the next paragraph says: If some critical baby teeth are lost too early,a space maintainer appliance can be made to ensure that the correct space and alignment is still kept. Problem solved.
posted by brainmouse at 11:47 AM on July 15, 2010

Nthing the pediatric dentist. I went to the dentist a lot when I was a kid (his office was on the street where we lived, so it was hard to forget about it), which helped me get used to the idea of it and not fear it as an adult. I wish I still got those awesome toys! They were the BEST!

I don't think you could have gotten kid me to floss even if you told me you'd let me live in Disneyland for the rest of my life. Just not going to happen.
posted by two lights above the sea at 11:48 AM on July 15, 2010

nth-ing the genetics thing.

I brush twice daily and floss daily, yet I get a cavity at you look at me sweetly. My partner follows the same routine. We eat and drink similarly, yet he's never had a cavity a day in his life. Go figure.
posted by matty at 11:53 AM on July 15, 2010

In terms of dental genetics, redheads and other people with lower melanin concentration will have weaker enamel, which is many gingers have very slightly yellowish teeth. This is partly why I'm prone to cavities, but my brunette sister who tans easily has never had one.
posted by zoomorphic at 11:53 AM on July 15, 2010

When baby teeth are lost too early due to extractions from a decay, a tooth gap develops which disrupts the proper spacing and correct alignment of the other teeth in the jaw arch.

I had plenty of cavities as a kid, but only one tooth pulled. And that was a genetic thing (an extra tooth was growing in under it). I inherited weak enamel from my mother, and the dentist basically told me there was nothing I could have done anyway.

A couple cavities does not mean your kid will have any teeth extracted. Especially if they go to the dentist regularly and take care of the cavities before they become a problem. So I don't see how your article is related to your question.

I would keep my kids away from fruit juice and soda because of the high correlation with childhood obesity. However, they do make nice treats now and then; don't make it an absolute prohibition.
posted by sbutler at 12:04 PM on July 15, 2010

I don't think anyone has mentioned it, but my son has used ACT kids rinse since he was about 3 and hasn't had a cavity since. He had sealants applied when he was around 7, which probably helps as well. But since your kiddos are little, just the rinse for now. Obviously the 1 year old can't use it, but the 3 year old should be just fine.
posted by fresh-rn at 12:05 PM on July 15, 2010

Fluoride helps, but fluoride in the water supply helps least (some say not at all), and has some serious drawbacks - the stuff is toxic, after all, and drinking it does very little, as only the tiny amount that adheres to the teeth does anything to prevent cavities. Fluoridated toothpaste (don't swallow it), mouthwash and applications at the dentist are most effective, and if it is in your drinking water as well, there can be problems with damge to the bones, and other bad side effects.

Fluoridated water is not a communist mind-control plot, as one claimed by the John Birch Society, but recent reseach is showing some cracks in the idea that fluoride in the water is always a good thing.
posted by tommyD at 12:07 PM on July 15, 2010

Not to stress you out any more, but please don't view large doses fluoride as the fail-safe way to prevent cavities in children. There is an optimal level of fluoride for young kids, and an excess of fluoride can lead to detal fluorosis.

I have a mild case due to a combination of toothpaste with fluoride and drinking water that had large quantities of fluoride added in. It's not a terribly big deal for me, but it's worth checking with your local dentist about whether your kids are getting the right amount (particularly if you're brushing their teeth often with a toothpaste heavy in fluoride).

It's great that they're learning good dental hygiene at a young age, and I'm sure a few cavities as a child will only reinforce for them how important it is to care for their teeth.
posted by brambory at 12:13 PM on July 15, 2010

Never drinks juice? A candy treat a rarity? Obsessive oral hygiene? Poor kids.

On the contrary, that's good parenting - one serving of juice has as much sugar as a large candy bar, and we have several industries trying to push drinking several servings of juice a day as "healthy".

And soda is the most god-awful stuff ever created. The only reason I would not ban it outright in my home is that it would make it that much more enticing to chug elsewhere.

Do make sure you are giving your kids flouridated water. If you'd like to filter the tap water, get an attachment for your faucets or a filtered water pitcher.
posted by lootie777 at 12:19 PM on July 15, 2010

When baby teeth are lost too early due to extractions from a decay, a tooth gap develops which disrupts the proper spacing and correct alignment of the other teeth in the jaw arch.

One of our neighbors when I was young let their kid's teeth rot brown. They were milk teeth, so the parents didn't take him to the dentist. I don't believe he had to get any kind of braces or anything (they didn't have a lot of preventative care in dentistry where I'm from), and the family was not at all well off. I think his teeth turned out fine.
posted by anniecat at 12:22 PM on July 15, 2010

Some people produce more plaque than others and are more disposed to cavities, some are less so.

This. I've always had good oral hygeine, but every dentist's visit of my young life meant getting 2-3 cavities filled.

Finally in college I started using Listerine 1-2 times per day, and haven't had a cavity in 18 years.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:45 PM on July 15, 2010

Flosspicks are easier to use than dental floss and come in bags of 20 or 100. Also - if you are giving them any tonics or medicines daily then be careful - some of these are really bad for your teeth and should be taken via a straw or with rinsing and brushing just after. I wish my mom had known!
posted by meepmeow at 1:05 PM on July 15, 2010

Sounds like you're doing everything right. Pretty soon however you'll need to start taking the older one to the dentist. Some people go to a pediatric dentist. I just went to my family's dentist, who was also a family friend.
posted by radioamy at 1:14 PM on July 15, 2010

Flossing a kid with something like these floss picks is no harder than brushing her teeth. We use them on our 2-year-old daughter every day.
posted by partylarry at 1:23 PM on July 15, 2010

And I don't think that cavities on baby teeth should make any long-term difference at all -- the teeth were gonna go anyway, they just maybe will go sooner than they were supposed to...

Cavities in milk teeth can result in crooked teeth coming in later.... I speak from personal experience.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:38 PM on July 15, 2010

My son's pediatrician wrote a prescription for fluoride to be taken orally (since Portland, OR has no fluoridated water)
posted by misterbrandt at 2:12 PM on July 15, 2010

My daughter had a cavity at age 2!

Please take your kids to a pediatric dentist - we waited far too long. She did not have much candy or juice - the real culprits here are sticky things like bread/rolls/crackers. They are actually worse than a meltable candy, like chocolate. They get into the crevices of the teeth and cling.

As detailed in one of my own posts, my daugher had to have general anesthesia to repair her cavity. That's what they do with little kids. They call them "pre-cooperative" - they can't sit still and get their teeth drilled. I was terrifed.

Cavities in baby teeth are very bad - the teeth are small, the enamel is thin, and you can have an abcess before you know it. What's more, they are hard to fill because of the thin enamel, and they often need to be capped because what's left of the tooth structure won't hold a filling. Worse, they caps for primary teeth are silver, not enamel.

This is not said to scare you, but dammit - I wish someone would have scared me! We could have caught the cavity before it needed capping.
posted by Knowyournuts at 2:19 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Worse, the caps for primary teeth are silver, not tooth-colored.
posted by Knowyournuts at 2:20 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have never had a cavity. Nor has my sister. Things my parents did to make sure this was the case:

- They brushed our teeth three times a day until we could reliably and thoroughly do it ourselves. When we went to school, toothbrushes and toothpaste went with us in our lunchboxes.
- They flossed our teeth every evening with normal floss. We were very compliant children, I guess.
- We saw the dentist every six months without fail.
- When we lived in areas without fluoridated water, we were prescribed fluoride supplements and took them every night without fail, despite the fact that they tasted nasty. It was non-negotiable.
- We got sealants as recommended by our dentist.
- When we had braces, we were required to use all the fiddly braces-cleaning tools every night.
- At some point, our manual brushes were supplemented by Sonicare brushes.
- Sugar and sticky things were kept to a minimum. We weren't allowed soda until we were in our late teens.

Both parents had plenty of cavities, so I don't think our resistance is genetic. Of course there are elements of luck, too.

Reading this list makes it sound like my parents were dental hygiene freaks. They really weren't; all of these steps fit pretty seamlessly into our routines and didn't seem abnormal at the time. Except the lunchbox thing.
posted by charmcityblues at 3:29 PM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes, cavities run in families - because cavities are an infection and a mother will pass the infection onto her babies and children! This is the current wisdom among dentists and I'm not sure why no one has mentioned it so far. Do you know people who live unhealthy lives but don't have cavities? That's because they have never been exposed to the cavity bacteria or they used mouthwash religiously and didn't let the cavity bacteria survive in their mouth. Flossing will only move cavity bacteria around your mouth if you don't start by killing the bacteria.

My cousin, who is a dental hygienist, just got back from a convention and she says everyone was a buzz with the new research that xylitol retards the growth of the cavity bacterias. She recommends letting children suck on xylitol candy or chew gum to get some xylitol in the mouth 4 or 5 times a day. You can't just use gum that has the ingredient xylitol in it, it has to be mostly xylitol like Spar gum. There is also a product called Spiffies which is a xylitol wipe meant to swab a baby's mouth. This was specifically designed for babies whose mother's have cavity bacteria in their mouth because it is now widely understood that she WILL pass the cavity bacteria to her baby.

I can't imagine flossing a child's teeth. I hate flossing. So I rinse my mouth out with a mix I make of water, sea salt and powdered xylitol. I rinse 4 or 5 times a day. I haven't done it long enough to know if it is working but they have been studying this for years especially in Findland. Rinsing also bypasses the laxative effect that ingesting xylitol will produce. You can read more about the theories at Dr. Ellie's Blog.

I don't know if a child would rinse with saltwater but I'm sure you could get them to rinse with xylitol water if they were old enough to understand not to swallow it (because of laxative effect). I just assume a child wouldn't use Listerine but maybe there are other mouthwashes for kids these days I don't know about?

I also whole-heartedly recommend not allowing kids to drink soda, watch the carbs, juice sparingly and rinse the mouth out afterward with water if not mouthwash. I got sealants for my kids and I think they are a good idea.
posted by cda at 4:13 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I had seven fillings when I was a kid. I now have zero dental problems.

Even if your kids do develop cavities, it's not the end of the world, so long as they're dealt with accordingly.

Also: Brushing right after eating is bad. Food introduces acids into the mouth, softening the teeth a bit; you don't want to take a brush to 'em until things harden up again. Wait a half an hour--same as swimming.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:26 PM on July 15, 2010

Flosspicks are easier to use than dental floss and come in bags of 20 or 100.

My dentist (not your dentist, but she's a dentist) doesn't recommend these highly because the floss doesn't wrap around the tooth as much so it doesn't do as good as a job. Definitely better than nothing, though. I like them because they're easier to use when out and about like at work.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 4:53 PM on July 15, 2010

cda - Thanks for posting that. Absolutely - the bacteria is Streptococcus mutans and it (and other bacteria, some good) passes from parent to child during the child's infancy. (Kisses, or the baby mouths things the parent has had their mouth on.) That's how kids get colonized with their oral flora in the first place. I always had lots of cavities, so... my poor kid. Once you have your own oral flora established, it more or less stays that way. Your own beneficial bacteria can fight off introduced bacteria, so you don't pick up the bad bacteria later in life by kissing your partner, for instance.

Several people have mentioned genetics. In this particular case, oral flora are passed physically, so it's not the same thing as being genetic, but in addition to oral flora, enamel strength could be a genetic factor.

We also have started letting our daughter chew xylitol gum. The dentist gave us a xylitol gel made for babies and toddlers that we can put right on her teeth after brushing.
posted by Knowyournuts at 4:56 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry, Finland.
posted by cda at 5:24 PM on July 15, 2010

Yeah, what's the deal here? Baby teeth will fall out regardless.

Bzzzt, wrong! Thanks for playing, though.

Baby teeth do indeed fall out but if there are cavities this can cause gum disease that does not fall out. Simply put, cavities and unhealthy baby teeth can cross over through the gums and jaw to effect adult teeth later.
posted by zardoz at 6:48 PM on July 15, 2010

There are so many factors that affect how many cavities people get, as others have said. We have a really prickly, explosive older child (9 now) and we have never pushed brushing with him because it just wasn't worth it to us to wrangle with him about it. He's had one cavity. in recent months, he has become interested in taking care of his teeth and now brushes regularly, though usually only once a day. Every time I take him to the dentist, he is praised for his good dental hygiene because his teeth look so great and plaque-free (while I gesture frantically from behind his head trying to get them to shut up because praising his dental hygiene when he only brushed his teeth every two weeks for the last six months does not help me, as a parent, convince him it's necessary to do it every day...).

Our dentist told me once there was no point in flossing his baby teeth because the spaces between his teeth were large enough that he probably wouldn't accumulate gunk. He said we could work on it as a habit-building thing but that, as a matter of dental hygiene, it probably wasn't necessary.

I, on the other hand, am one of those people who has done everything a dental professional has ever told me to do, and it's still a miracle for me to get out of a dental check-up without needing some kind of work done. I've actually been very relieved that my oldest son hasn't had a lot of cavities because of that whole passing-on-of-bad-bacteria thing. I assumed they were doomed to a life like mine, and so far that hasn't been true (knocks wood).

My take-away from seeing what has gone on with my kids' teeth, and my friends' kids' teeth, is that this is one of those areas where you can be a "good" parent (floss! brush 2x/day! rinses! no juice!) or you can be a "bad" parent (like me!) but in my judgment, it is important to take care of our kids' teeth but we have less control over whether they get cavities or need other work done than we imagine we do. I can't believe the degree of anxiety parents have over this, most of it unnecessary. Even if your kid has crap teeth, like mine, it's perfectly possible to live a normal, happy life.
posted by not that girl at 9:37 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

cda: "Flossing will only move cavity bacteria around your mouth if you don't start by killing the bacteria."

When free-floating (planktonic) bacteria become part of a bio-film they undergo physiological changes. In your mouth, this means that bacteria in plaque begin producing acid which erodes enamel while the same bacteria free floating are harmless.

It takes approx 24 hours for a good bio-film to develop, and after 48 hours it begins to harden. so if you go in and break up the community once a day, you do yourself a great service. you don't need to kill them, just make sure they don't build any cities.
posted by subarctic_guy at 3:24 AM on July 16, 2010

a good habit you may want to teach them is to swish with water after eating or drinking anything.
posted by subarctic_guy at 3:27 AM on July 16, 2010

this "bad bacteria" theory is interesting. perhaps we can get a microbiologist in here? is it possible that some people carry strains of bacteria that switch over to anaerobic respiration (acid producing) more readily?

related: Dr hillman of Oragenics has created a strain of s. mutans (the primary cavity-causer) which doesn't have the ability to make acid and which replaces the acid-producing s. mutans in your mouth. just a 5-minute treatment and you're protected for life. it's in human trials right now after a 2 year hold. I'm looking forward to the results! i wonder if you can . . . ahem . . . share . . . the cavity resistance once you get treated. lol ;) the story
posted by subarctic_guy at 4:01 AM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wenyuan Shi, PhD is one researcher who studies the microbiology of dental caries. He also makes lollipops with an "ingredient found in licorice that kills the primary bacterium causing tooth decay."
posted by cda at 7:30 AM on July 16, 2010

Here is one study that claims a significant drop in bacteria after flossing. (contradicting myself. but I still hate flossing.)
posted by cda at 8:04 AM on July 16, 2010

Cavities are caused by a bacteria that's now pretty much endemic. People who live in areas with high naturally-occurring fluoride in the water have fewer cavities. Fluoride bonds w/ enamel and makes teeth stronger. Brushing gets the crud off teeth so bacteria have no food. Flossing, too. Chewing gum helps keep teeth clean, and gum w/ Xylitol helps reduce cavities.

Teach your kids to go to the dentist. Too many adults have dentist fears, and their teeth become really bad as a result. I'm a serious wuss about pain, but have terrible teeth(I was the 8th pregnancy). I go to the dentist regularly, and they do great pain care these days, unlike the Evil Dentist-Monster of my youth.
posted by theora55 at 10:09 AM on July 16, 2010

this "bad bacteria" theory is interesting. perhaps we can get a microbiologist in here?

posted by Knowyournuts at 10:55 AM on July 16, 2010

I know I am several days late with this answer, but I want to point out that my daughter got sealants as a kid, she never drank soda (diet or regular) after about age 12, she brushes/flosses twice a day, goes to the dentist every 6 months and uses ACT rinse.

At age 20 the dentist discovered cavities UNDER the sealants on 12 of her teeth. Over $1500 worth of repairs and she is furious. Apparently the x-rays can't see past the sealants??

Anyway - I'm just pointing out that you can do everything recommended and it still might not be good enough.
posted by CathyG at 2:22 PM on July 20, 2010

Knowyournuts: "this "bad bacteria" theory is interesting. perhaps we can get a microbiologist in here?



so: is it possible that some people carry strains of bacteria that switch over to anaerobic respiration (acid producing) more readily? have you heard of this sort of variation within a microbial species?
posted by subarctic_guy at 6:00 AM on July 28, 2010

i also question the wisdom of trying to kill off the bacteria in the mouth. These "good guys" probably outcompete pathogenic bacteria and yeast (thrush).
posted by subarctic_guy at 6:06 AM on July 28, 2010

subarctic_guy - that's why I wouldn't swish antibiotics around my mouth. But I would use salt water/xylitol rinse and then follow that with eating yogurt to restore the good bacteria in my mouth.

uauage - do your kids eat quality yogurt 2 or 3 times a week?
posted by cda at 5:47 AM on July 31, 2010

so: is it possible that some people carry strains of bacteria that switch over to anaerobic respiration (acid producing) more readily? have you heard of this sort of variation within a microbial species?

subarctic_guy: Well, I had to look it up. I was putting together some abstracts to post, but I hit on such a huge body of information that I think it's better to summarize.

Yes, I think that's possible. While I didn't find that exact information, I did find a lot about different strains of S. mutans, and what such-and-such genes are for. Between the strains of S. mutans that a person can carry, the bacteria might differ in their ability to:

-form thick vs sparse biofilms
-cling to the tooth surface
-survive under acidic pH
-utilize sugars
-sensitivity to xylitol
-produce mutacins (natural antibiotics that limit growth of other bacteria), which is perhaps even more damning than any of the above, considering that they could use this to kill/outcompete potentially beneficial bacterial species.

So it's entirely possible to have a more virulent strain of S. mutans than someone else has. When I used to teach microbiology lab, I had my students do a swab of their own teeth and plate it on selective media, and not all of the students even carried S. mutans. Lucky.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:59 AM on August 17, 2010

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