Before your child even has teeth, good oral hygiene habits are important. In the U.S. nearly 42% of children ages 2 -11 have cavities, 30% before they reach kindergarten age.
When you nag your child for the 3,000,000th time about brushing their teeth, it may be tempting to give up. Studies show, however, that if you establish good hygiene habits early, it can have can have lifelong consequences on oral health.
Without a good tooth care routine, children can suffer tooth decay, pain, infection and an impact on the development of their adult teeth. Pediatric dentistry advances have made care much more friendly and accessible to children than in the past.
To learn more, read on.
First Dentist Visit
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends daily cleaning of an infants mouth with soft gauze to accustom the child to the action and to remove plaque from the gums. When the first tooth erupts, switch to a twice daily brushing with a soft baby toothbrush and a smear of baby toothpaste.
Children are born with around 20 baby teeth hiding in their gums. These will make their appearance around 6 months of age and continue regularly appearing until around age 2 1/2. A baby should visit the dentist when the first tooth erupts and no later than by age 1.
Don’t worry about your baby crying and fussing. The first visit to the dentist is quick. A dentist knows the telltale plaque buildup along the top gumline that’s a sure sign of problems.
What Causes Cavities?
Dental caries (cavities) are caused by a certain group of bacteria that spreads easily within families. Mutans streptococcus feeds on sugar (even milk sugars!) and produces acidic plaque that eats away teeth. Unfortunately, even antibiotics can’t completely clear away the bacteria.
Babies are not born with this bacteria present in their mouths but are easily infected. “Soft teeth” aren’t generally an inherited problem, but instead are an early infection with mutans strep!
If your family has a history of dental problems, avoid sharing bites of food, utensils or toothbrushes with your child. Try not to let little fingers get into other people’s mouths or other mouths onto your child’s bottle or pacifier.
It isn’t possible to clear away all bacteria from the mouth once infected, but it’s possible to reduce levels of mutans strep. An antibacterial mouthwash can be prescribed for adults to use to reduce transmission to children.
Good oral hygiene habits to establish include:
- Twice-daily sweep of mouth with clean gauze or clean washcloth.
- Never nurse a child to sleep (put only water in a bedtime bottle if you must give them anything)
- Never share saliva- use a clean spoon and dish just for the child, don’t share a toothbrush either
- Children should never be given soda, juice or sugary foods before age 1
Your child should visit the dentist every six months, although your pediatric dentistry practice will recommend more frequent visits if your child’s teeth need monitoring.
Pediatric Dentistry Recommendations
Some people do not believe that primary teeth (baby teeth) need as much care as permanent teeth (adult teeth). Primary teeth, however, are necessary to eat, speak and to properly develop permanent teeth.
Primary teeth have thinner enamel than permanent teeth and are more susceptible to cavities. Cavities in baby teeth can be painful and can damage or weaken the adult teeth.
Focus your efforts on plaque removal and cavity prevention. Diet, fluoride treatments and sealants provide some protection, but toothbrushing is your first and best defense.
- Clean your baby’s gums at least twice daily with gauze or a clean, damp washcloth
- Use a baby toothbrush with just a smear of baby toothpaste as soon as the first tooth appears
- No bottles in bed (water only if you must)
- Brush your child’s teeth for 60 seconds after eating and before bed
- Use just a smear of fluoride toothpaste beginning at 2 or 3 years old
- Begin flossing teeth when two teeth touch
- Watered juice only occasionally, no sodas
- Model brushing for your child, brush your own teeth at the same time as your child brushes
- Teach your child to floss, floss picks are easiest
- Always follow up their brushing and flossing to catch missed spots
- Watered juice only, no sodas
Kindergarten and Up
- Start brushing two minutes
- Children may brush and floss independently around age 7, but keep checking
- Plaque-revealing rinses are helpful
- Limit sugary foods
Even though all kids are at risk of developing cavities, following these pediatric dentistry recommendations will reduce their risks.
Fluoride and Sealants
Fluoride helps strengthen the calcium network of tooth enamel. In communities where drinking water is fluoridated, children have 20% to 40% fewer cavities.
If your children drink only bottled water or tap water that is not supplemented with fluoride, consider a supplement. Be careful though, eating or drinking too much fluoride can stain teeth.
Pediatric dentists can apply a protective fluoride varnish on emerging teeth. Applied twice a year, children are four times less likely to get cavities in their teeth than children who don’t get fluoride coatings. Dentists also commonly apply plastic sealants to the back teeth to prevent decay.
Diet for Healthy Teeth
Good nutrition during childhood can build a lifetime of healthy teeth. Eating a well-balanced diet rich in lean proteins, calcium, and high water content vegetables and fruits build strong teeth and gums. Crunchy, raw items help the saliva remove plaque from the teeth.
Preventing cavities and plaque is more about limiting the contact between sugar and the teeth. Skip juices and soda. Serve milk and water instead.
Here are some things to avoid:
- sticky foods like caramel or taffy
- hard candies
- gum, unless sugarfree
- cake frosting
- sweetened food
- snack foods (eating between meals gives more time for food to be in contact with the teeth)
It should be automatic to remind your children to brush their teeth after eating. Someday, they might not need reminding!
Ask Your Dentist
Your dentist will work with you to keep your child’s mouth clean and to ensure a long-lasting, bright smile. Preventing tooth decay, gum disease, or any other dental issues in adults depends on good oral care now.
Questions or comments? Send us a message or call us today!