In honor of Purposeful Parenting I wanted to share this family resource piece from Healthy Smiles on "why children's teeth are yellow', written by Dr. Mungo.
What to Do When Your Child’s Pearly Whites Aren’t So White
Thirty white horses on a red hill. They tramp, then they stamp and then they stand still. What are they? The answer is teeth, of course.
Before the ravages of coffee, red wine and acidic foods stain adult teeth, children’s teeth are as white as nature intended, creating the clever basis for this riddle that dentists like to tell.
Although we tend to think of healthy teeth as being pearly white, the true color varies from white to yellow to gray. This range of shades can be healthy and simply a reflection of the materials that make up your children’s teeth. The hard outer layer of teeth, called enamel, is translucent and shows the dentin underneath. If the dentin is dark or yellow, your children’s teeth could appear less than pearly white. Plus, permanent teeth always are shades darker than baby teeth, which sometimes are called “milk teeth” because of their bright hue.
However, yellow or stained teeth in children could be an indication of health issues that parents should address immediately. In fact, addressing your children’s overall dental health is just one of the many examples of how parents can participate in Purposeful Parenting Month in July, an annual observance created to encourage mothers and fathers to be active, engaged parents.
Recognizing the warning signs of dental disease in children, such as yellowing teeth, takes action but also sets up children for a lifetime of healthy dental habits. As one of the largest nonprofit oral health providers for children dedicated to improving the dental health of children, at Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County these are the most-common factors we see in children, plus some remedies we recommend to patients and their parents. All of these tips can be started during Purposeful Parenting Month so parents and kids can get into a daily routine that carries them into the school year.
Brush Away Poor Dental Hygiene
Kids have to be taught how to brush their teeth properly and supervised to ensure they don’t slack off, especially during the fun months of summer when the daily routines your family follows during the school year can be disrupted easily. Parents should be supervising their children’s brushing until the age of 8, to ensure no tooth is missed.
To prevent a host of dental-related diseases as well as yellow teeth, children should brush at least twice a day for two minutes and floss daily. Even before an examination, you can see evidence of poor dental hygiene by the fuzzy film that covers children’s teeth, known as plaque. Beyond your at-home routine, children should have dental visits every six months starting at age one or when a child’s first tooth comes in.
Parents can make brushing fun for kids by incorporating some of their favorite cartoon characters, entertainment and flavors into this healthy step. You’ll find musical toothbrushes, electric toothbrushes and toothbrushes designed with characters on them. Both musical toothbrushes and electric toothbrushes not only have fun characters on them, but their favorite song will play for two minutes to ensure their brushing, just like the dentist ordered. Let your child pick one every three to four months, the average lifespan of any toothbrush. Also, look for American Dental Association-approved toothpaste in kid-friendly flavors, such as bubblegum or cupcake.
Eat for Dental Health
The foods you choose can affect your children’s general health and the health of their teeth and gums, too. Sugar-filled sodas, sports drinks or non-nutritious snacks could put kids at risk for tooth decay —the single most-common chronic childhood disease. Preparing fun, yet healthy dinners with your children or bringing them along to the grocery story to pick their favorite tooth friendly snack, is one example of how parents can participate in Purposeful Parenting Month, too.
For good dental health, encourage kids to drink plenty of water and eat a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy foods. Although growing kids can be hungry in between meals, try to limit the number of snacks they eat. This can minimize the damaging effects of acids in foods, which can decay enamel and cause cavities.
Limit Fluoride Intake
There is no doubt that fluoride, often added to toothpaste and tap water, can strengthen teeth and prevent cavities, especially in children. However, in excess, this chemical can yellow or stain teeth. We see this condition, referred to as dental fluorosis, usually in children younger than eight-years-old when permanent teeth are forming underneath the gums. Too much fluoride can stain the enamel, causing your child’s teeth to turn yellow.
To prevent dental fluorosis, the Centers for Disease Control doesn’t recommend using fluoride on children under the age of two. For kids between the ages of two and six, follow manufacturer’s directions when using toothpaste and be sure they spit out toothpaste after brushing and rinse well.
Some medications and vitamins will stain teeth. For example, the antibiotics tetracycline and doxycycline will yellow teeth that are still forming. Even the iron in your child’s multivitamin can cause discoloration. These types of stains usually can be prevented if children step up their daily brushing-and-flossing routine, or removed during their twice-a-year dental exam and cleaning.
If you’re concerned about your child’s yellow teeth, the best action is to ask a dentist, who can rule out trauma, infection or disease and give tips kids can follow to ensure a healthy smile. Teaching them to be vigilant about their dental health at an early age is just one of the ways you can demonstrate purposeful parenting in action.
Dr. Richard Mungo, a founding board member of Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County and a pediatric dentist in Huntington Beach, brings 28 years of experience to the oral health care field. He also serves as part-time faculty at USC School of Dentistry and a lecturer at UCLA School of Dentistry. Because of his position as a leading pediatric dentist who brings accessible oral health care services to underserved and special needs children in Orange County, the Regional Center of Orange County and other organizations have awarded him multiple honors.