In children, tooth decay can affect growth and development. Preventive dentistry can result in less intensive — and less expensive— treatment for any dental conditions that may develop, and help set kids up for a lifetime of exceptional oral health.
Here is how to partner with your dentist to care for your child’s smile:
- Start Good Oral Hygiene Habits ASAP: Dental problems can begin early. Many parents think baby teeth aren’t important because they’re eventually replaced by permanent ones. But these first teeth preserve the spacing for permanent teeth and help a child chew and talk. If baby teeth aren’t cared for properly, they can decay, leading to a gum infection and the potential for early tooth loss. You can use a water-soaked gauze pad to gently clean your infant’s gums and erupting primary teeth after each feeding. You can also buy a soft rubbery device that fits like a thimble on your index finger, specifically designed for rubbing off excess food. Once baby teeth start to come in, brush in the morning and right before bedtime using a baby toothbrush with a small head and grip suitable for your hand.
- Limit Sugar: Limiting juices and other sugary drinks is important to maintain good oral health. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry cautions against having children drink juice from a bottle and recommends that fruit juice should be offered only in a cup at mealtimes. The AAP recommends no juice at all for babies younger than 1 year. A balanced diet is also a key part of developing healthy dental habits. Foods with sugar and carbohydrates feed the bacteria that produce dental plaque. If your child consumes sugar-laced foods including juice, it takes saliva at least 30 minutes to neutralize the acidity that is produced by bacteria. A sugary snack or sip of juice every hour can mean your child’s mouth is always acidic, which increases the chances for tooth decay.Some foods, like fruit, peanut butter and jelly, bread, crackers, goldfish, cheerios, and pasta can contribute to cavities. You can serve these foods with water so they’re more likely to get dislodged and won’t remain on the teeth too long.
- Avoid Baby Bottle Tooth Decay: Be sure to clean your child’s teeth after giving your child a bottle filled with anything but water before bed or naptime. Exposing teeth to fluids that contain sugar, including breast milk and formula, for an extended period of time can substantially increase the potential for decay if the liquid is allowed to pool in the child’s mouth during sleep.
- Teach Your Child: The most important prevention technique is brushing twice a day and flossing once a day to remove plaque, a coating that forms on teeth and causes decay. If not removed by a dentist, plaque can build up and produce tartar, a hardened, sticky substance. When your child turns 2, you can begin to teach your child proper brushing techniques using a small soft-bristled toothbrush and no more than a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste. It is important to supervise brushing and remind children not to swallow the toothpaste. If your child cannot yet spit out toothpaste after brushing, use a small smear of fluoride toothpaste to minimize the risk of mild discoloration, white spots or streaking of the teeth. This condition is called fluorosis and is caused by ingesting fluoride toothpaste at a young age. You should follow your child’s own efforts up with a more thorough cleaning of your own. When your child is about 8 years old, he/she should be able to start brushing alone. You can wait to introduce flossing until teeth are touching each other, or until adult teeth first start to appear (and you can buy flossers to make it easier for your child’s little hands).
- If Tooth-brushing Time is a Struggle:
- Try using a soft washcloth and a gentle touch.
- Distract babies by singing a calming song.
- Invite children to watch a parent brush and make a game out of tooth-brushing time.
- Encourage interest by having children hold the brush and go at their own pace. They may even end up putting the brush in their mouths without prompting.
- Lay them down and do it while they are crying.
- Childproof Your Home: Research has shown that over half of dental injuries to children under age 7 happen while playing near home furniture.
- Consult Your Dentist: Each child is different, and so are their dental needs. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children see a dentist by their first birthday and every six months following their first appointment. This way patients can establish a long-term dental hygiene plan. Ask your dentist about the best time to receive fluoride treatments, which strengthen enamel to protect against decay. Or ask about dental sealants, which keep food from getting stuck in the small grooves of the permanent teeth.
Children with healthy teeth chew more easily and smile with confidence. Establishing good oral hygiene now will set your child up for a lifetime of good dental habits!