SUNDAY, Feb. 21, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- There are a number of things parents can do to help their children enjoy a lifetime with healthy teeth and gums, a dental expert says.
Start by creating a foundation of a balanced diet, limiting snacks, and brushing and flossing each day, said Stephen Mitchell, director of predoctoral pediatric dentistry at the School of Dentistry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Of course, regular dental checkups are also crucial.
Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among American children. It's four times more common than asthma, Mitchell said. Consuming too many drinks with natural or added sugar can lead to tooth decay, he explained.
"Look at the nutrition label. If the calorie count is higher than 10 per serving, parents should be careful," Mitchell said in a university news release. High-calorie drinks should be limited to one or two times a day, he advised.
Each day, children should have three balanced meals that include fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy. This will reduce their need to snack during the day, and lower their risk of tooth decay.
"Make sweets a treat. On a normal day, parents should limit their children to a combination of one or two sugary drinks, desserts or candies," Mitchell said.
Misuse of sippy cups is another hazard.
"Tooth decay, especially 'baby bottle tooth decay,' is all about the amount of time a child's teeth are exposed to sugars," Mitchell said. "If you use a bottle or sippy cup, use it while the child is at the table for mealtime. Do not allow children to carry the cup around with them, and never allow them to sleep with it."
Parents should brush their young children's teeth for two minutes twice a day and focus on where the teeth and gums meet. It's crucial to floss between baby or permanent teeth that touch together.
Parents should brush their children's teeth until they are 6 or 7 years old, when they are coordinated enough to brush on their own. Parents should do an inspection after children brush their teeth.
February is National Children's Dental Health Month.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about caring for your child's teeth.