Saturday, August 1, 2015

Expecting? Mom's Oral Health Matters

The message the American Academy of Pediatrics is clear: children should establish a dental home as soon as the first erupts or no later than the first birthday. This simple but early intervention is intended to prevent early childhood caries (formerly known as baby bottle rot). How are parents not receiving this message of earlier checkups? It's easy: Pediatric dentists aren't getting the message out soon enough. To break the cycle of tooth decay in families, we need to educate mothers before the birth of their child.
Research has long shown there is a strong link between the dental disease status of a mother and her children. Advising mothers to seek dental care before the birth of their child and encouraging infant oral health visits in a dental home setting will help break the cycle of tooth decay in families. As a mother prepares for the birth of her child, however, she usually receives lots of advice from medical professionals, blogs, prenatal classes, or books. The topics discussed include: birthing options, childhood immunizations, car seats, developmental milestones, basic bathing techniques, and the list goes on and on. One topic I often do not hear about or read about, however, is what to do about oral care for mom or the baby. That message is missed completely, and often results in a late start to oral health care.
The answer to this whole discussion is simple: Expectant mothers should receive an oral health screening or be current on her dental checkups prior to expecting (or soon after she finds out she is expecting). This also means that obstetricians should remind expectant mothers to have a dental checkup before baby is born just in case it gets forgotten as well.
Treatment of tooth decay in the mother prior to the baby's birth reduces the bacterial counts of disease-causing microorganisms in mom's mouth. This is so important because tooth decay is a transmissible disease which is passed through saliva from caregiver to child. Since babies are not born with bacteria in their mouth, it means that the bacterial colonies are established through activities such as kissing.  I'm not suggesting mothers don't kiss their babies- not at all. But if a mother has active tooth decay, it means there will be higher amounts of decay-causing bacteria in her mouth that can be passed onto her baby. If there is less "bad bacteria" in mom's mouth, there is a higher chance her baby will develop a more "healthy" colony of bacteria that can actually help prevent tooth decay in the future.
After the baby is born, mom should also start oral care for her child early. Start by wiping the baby's gum pads daily during bath time. This gets the baby accustomed to oral cleansing. Once the teeth erupt into the mouth, it is essential to wipe baby's teeth after every meal, carefully removing the plaque layer that forms on the teeth. Mom should also schedule a baby well visit at the pediatric dentist. At this time, the baby will be introduced to the dental environment and mom can receive essential oral health coaching required to reduce the chance of tooth decay for her child. The pediatric dentist is trained to discuss a variety of topics such as teething, oral safety concerns, oral hygiene routines, nutritional guidance, and assess developmental status of the baby's oral environment.
Baby Dr. Hollen
One of the most important parts of the infant well visit includes a caries risk assessment, which measures the child's risk for tooth decay based on a variety of factors. Part of the goal of this assessment is to help parents identify risk factors that they can modify at home to help reduce the risk of tooth decay. After the first caries risk assessment, regular follow-up care is needed to reassess the risk of tooth decay over time. This is because your child does not have the same habits over time. For instance, some toddlers become picky eaters and perhaps less nutritious meals are provided to help the child maintain a proper weight. If the child only eats sweeter foods, this may change their risk for decay and other strategies may be needed to outweigh the dietary factors that may lead to tooth decay. Understanding the factors that promote tooth decay can also help the dentist establish a plan for cavity prevention that can be developed in cooperation with the parents and child.
Dental decay is still the most prevalent chronic childhood infection, which is important to consider as an expectant mother.  The steps to reach optimal oral health for mothers and their unborn children is simple:
1) Expectant mothers should establish a dental home prior to pregnancy (or soon thereafter)
2) Expectant mothers should optimize their oral health prior to the birth of their child
3) Expectant mothers should learn how to properly care for the oral health of their baby
4) After baby is born, wipe the gum pads daily
5) When the first tooth is visible, the baby should have their first dental checkup with a pediatric dentist to establish a dental home

If you are expecting and have not received pre-natal oral health education, please do not hesitate to contact Southwest Kids Dentistry. Dr. Hollen offers a pre-natal consultation free-of-charge. This visit is intended to help expecting parents prepare for the health of their unborn and explain why establishing healthy family habits is the key to developing healthy babies. 

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