As parents, we’re hardwired to want to provide our kids with a better start at life than we received.
After all, that’s how humanity moves forward.
So when we turn our attention to helping our kids have a better start with their oral health, opinions vary widely.
The questions seem endless. That’s why we love doing what we do… Researching the subjects you want to learn more about and sharing our findings.
So, with this pass on how to raise cavity-free kids, we hope you find a gem or two that help you navigate this path for your family…
Cavities become the norm when the right (wrong) combination of circumstances come together
Here are the main components that allow tooth decay to become the norm:
1. The presence of the right ‘bugs’ in the child’s mouth
2. The diet and lifestyle factors that allow these bugs to dominate the child’s oral micro biome
At the end of this article, we’ll put forth a few actions each of us can apply to help our kids get moving in the cavity-free direction…
How much of the ‘kids cavity issue’ is from decay causing bacteria?
Let’s get this straight, for tooth decay to occur, certain bacterial strains must be present and allowed to grow and colonize the mouth.
We have lost count of the number of customers who have told us, “My teeth were great until I got married.” In other words, via kissing, one spouse introduced the bugs implicated with decay to the other.
In the case of children, the main ‘vectors of contamination’ are us, the parents.
Unless we have our systems optimized to where the bugs implicated with tooth decay aren’t an issue for us, it’s almost guaranteed that we will pass them to our children.
This is why we aren’t fans of parents putting a pacifier in their mouth before giving it to the child. Yes, there is the argument that we are inoculating the beneficial microbes into the child’s mouth too, but in this case, we feel the risks outweigh the benefits unless the parent is free from tooth decay and gum disease.
Incidentally, when it comes to the bugs associated with gum disease, dogs are a very common carrier. Please never let a family dog lick a child in the mouth. Aside from the obvious (ahem, where else do dogs put their tongues?), allowing your child to be licked in the mouth by a dog is an easy way to pass these gum disease bugs to a young child.
Bottom line, if we aren’t exposed to the various strains of oral bacteria implicated with tooth decay (and gum disease for that matter), we really can’t develop these issues.
However (and it’s a big however), to quote one of our favorite experts on the subject, Dr Ralph Steinman, author of Dentinal Fluid Transport, “To produce caries (cavities), more than the presence of bacteria is necessary: an important factor is host resistance, which is effected by nutrition.” (pg 34 Dentinal Fluid Transport)
So, we can have ‘the presence of bacteria’ in the mouth, but if our host resistance (our innate immune response) is strong/robust enough, the bacteria implicated with tooth decay won’t be able to proliferate to the numbers necessary for decay to be the norm.
How to raise the ‘host resistance’ in our homes.
Ok, it’s time for some good and bad news.
The bad news is there is no secret sauce, one magic thing, (product, food, supplement, etc) we can take and never have another cavity. I know, the idea of a special one thing really appeals to that aspect within each of us that would really like to eat whatever and be vital and healthy. But it doesn’t work.
The good news is various researchers through the years have identified the various parts of the puzzle needed to walk this path to being cavity-free. Again, a quote from Dr Ralph Steinman seems insightful…
“One must admit that the answer to this multifactorial problem [tooth decay] is an improved way of life including good genes, proper lifetime nutrition, freedom from undue stress, adequate water, sunlight, fresh air, exercise and control of other environmental factors. A program of prevention based upon sound principles is the answer to man’s physical problems. It is unpopular because man desires to eat his cake (and between-meal snacks) and have his teeth, too, which isn’t likely to happen any time soon!” Dr Ralph Steinman, March 23, 1962
The “Think Global, Act Local” approach to being cavity-free
Because of our background in the Chinese longevity arts (think Tai Chi), we’ve always approached life from a holistic two-prong ‘yin & yang’, ‘local/global’ perspective.
In the case of oral health, ‘local’ steps include any care we provide actually in our mouths. So, healthy oral hygiene habits, balancing our oral flora in the mouth, being conscious of how often we allow acidic drinks to come into contact with our teeth, exercising our saliva, and oil pulling are all ‘local’, in the mouth actions we can take along this path.
The ‘global’ approach to a cavity free life is more elusive. Let’s unpack this concept a bit…
What are the factors that impact, positively or negatively, our potential immune response?
Clearly, diet plays a fundamental role.
How we manage our stress levels are going to have a big impact too.
But what about the words we choose to speak? Or how we habitually describe our life to others?
How much do these broader, less obvious factors impact our ability to live a cavity-free life?
It turns out, factors that impact our stress levels may play an equally central role as diet in determining whether we regularly get cavities or can steer free from tooth decay.
What role does stress play in navigating the cavity-free life?
Through his decades as a researcher, Dr Ralph Steinman did lots of studies on rats to see if he could discern the role that diet, stress and many other factors play on our ability to avoid decay.
Very early on, Dr Steinman found that he could feed rats certain diets and either make their rate of decay almost zero or, to the other extreme, rampant. With this information, Dr Steinman labeled two diets, caries (cavity) causing and caries resistant diets.
He found really quickly that diet plays a central role in the decay process.
We find one group of studies he performed to determine how important stress is on the decay process very fascinating.
In this group of studies, Dr Steinman fed both groups of rats the ‘cavity resistant’ diet. Then he caused one group to regularly experience more stress than the other group by causing them to live in crowded conditions.
Not surprisingly, even when the rats were fed the ‘cavity resistant’ diet, if they were under regular stress, they experienced tooth decay like if they were eating a ‘cavity causing’ diet.
For most of us living in this modern world, this is a bummer. It’s not as simple as to ‘just’ feed our kids well (like that’s even an easy task). We also have to help them learn to manage their stress levels well.
4 ‘local/global’ steps toward cavity free kids
We’ve covered a lot of ground with today’s article. Let’s bring all this together with 4 actions each of us can take to help our kids along this path…
Help your kids establish healthy oral hygiene habits
We recall when we were young parents. Some ‘experts’ suggested that we pin down our toddler to get a ‘good’ brushing done. This never made sense to us and still doesn’t.
Any ‘benefit’ of getting a thorough brushing done is going to be a short lived benefit compared to the stress to the family and the potential of establishing negative associations with oral hygiene for the child.
Rather than bullying the child into brushing, model healthy brushing habits for them. A family that brushes at the same time (even if you plan to brush again after your toddler goes to bed) will help the young child see that mom and dad brush their teeth too.
We found the game, “You brush my teeth then I’ll brush yours” worked well to allow us to get a bit more cleaning on the young child’s teeth. Be patient and resist the temptation to bully them once they decide they’ve had enough.
Get rid of sweet ‘between meal’ snacks
Hands down, the #1 way to insure regular cavities is to make a habit of having sweet snacks between meals.
Dr Steinman proved that snacking on sweet foods between meals always results in decay, even if the meals are health giving and don’t promote decay themselves. If you’re going to make a stand on one new habit in the home, we would make a strong case for this one.
The main cleansing mechanism our bodies have to flush any ‘bad bugs’ from inside our teeth relies on the flow of fluid moving from inside each of our teeth outward. This is what cleanses bugs from under the surface of our teeth where decay first starts. It’s called ‘dentinal fluid flow’. We dedicated an article to this subject titled, “What causes tooth decay (and how we can stop it)”
Sugar is one of a handful of foods that cause this natural cleansing flow to reverse and actually help welcome bugs into our teeth (bad news).
So, the absolute worst thing we can do for our oral health is to ‘drip’ sugar into our systems throughout each day. Doing so never allows our dentinal fluid flow to cleanse our teeth. Decay always follows.
Keep a close eye on the sheer quantity of sugar your child consumes.
Ok, so maybe I’m a bit ‘trigger happy’ when it comes to sugar and tooth decay ?
I recall when I was a child, my mother used to put a small box of raisins in my lunch for me to take to school. I’m sure she thought she was doing well. After all, she wasn’t sending me to school with cookies or other ‘junk food’.
And sure, amidst the range of junk foods available, raisins are pretty benign. (Quick side note: Raisins are one of the foods that it’s really best to have organic if possible. One of the pesticides used on grapes grown non organically is a fluoride based spray. So, commercially grown grapes tend to carry a pretty heavy hit of fluoride.)
However, in this case, the point I want to make isn’t about ‘what’ the sweet food is, but on the sheer amount.
If you give a 40 pound child one of those ‘little’ boxes or raisins, that’s equivalent to me eating 5 boxes of raisins. That amount of fruit sugar at one time would send my blood sugar to the moon, throw my oral flora balance way off, and promote a reversal in my dentinal fluid flow, all of which would promote cavities.
It’s really a factor of how much.
At the risk of the obvious, our kids are small. A couple slices of an apple is plenty (some might argue even too much).
So, when offering your child sweet foods (fruits included), keep in mind of relative portions for their smaller bodies.
Make sure everyone gets outside play time
When we were kids, the rule in our homes were, “Be home before dark”. So, the whole afternoon and early evening we were playing outside.
With electronic gaming being so tantalizing these days and kids spending their ‘play’ time inside, the precious stress relieving benefits of outside play are being lost. Not only are our children not running and moving as much to get their ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters pumping, they are also losing the benefits of breathing outside, being in nature, and getting dirty.
So, even if we have to drag our kids out, everyone get outside. Take a walk after dinner rather than get on electronic devices. Invest in a trampoline. If funds are tight, just tie a rope to an outside doorknob or tree trunk and swing the jumprope for the kids. Play catch outside, barefoot to get the benefits of earthing and getting our feet exposed to some dirt.
One of our favorite outside games is “what animal is that cloud shaped like?”. Endless creative fun watching clouds shift from geese to alligators. Plus it’s an excellent opportunity to get the benefits of laying on the ground, perhaps on some grass in a park and spend some quality time with a child.
The benefits to our whole body health of being outside truly cannot be overstated. Just get outside and spend time there.
So, clearly there’s a lot to navigating this path to optimal oral health in the home. We hope this article helps you and your loved one along that path. Like always, as we take baby steps toward a long term goal, the changes we experience really begin to stack up.
What do you do to help your family along this path?
What strategies do you use to establish healthy oral hygiene habits?
How do you get your kids off electronics and outside?
Please share in the comments below so we can keep this conversation going and learn from one another!
Helpful, Related Resources:
Is fluoride safe to use? [article]
Are dental sealants safe? [article]
Is it wise to have your wisdom teeth removed? [article]
How to help your toddler avoid gum disease [article]
The book ‘Dentinal Fluid Transport’ on amazon [affiliate link]
How to balance your oral flora [article]
How to drink kombucha and NOT destroy your teeth [article]
Is the key to greater oral health already in our mouths? [article]
What is oil pulling? [article]