Care for Your Child’s Teeth
Cavities are the most common chronic childhood disease. Most children by elementary school will have had decay. The good news is that cavities are preventable. Regular dental visits and preventive care at home can eradicate this disease.
How can I prevent oral problems for my child?
Though most parents primarily think of brushing and flossing when they hear the words “oral care,” good preventative care includes many more factors, such as:
Diet – Parents should provide children with a nourishing, well-balanced diet. Very sugary diets should be modified and continuous snacking should be discouraged. Bacteria ingest leftover sugar particles in the child’s mouth and emit harmful acids that erode tooth enamel, gum tissue, and bone. Space out snacks whenever possible, and provide the child with non-sugary (low carb) alternatives like cheese, nuts, and veggies (carrot and celery sticks). Drinking water in between meals and snacks is a simple way to wash the acid off of your teeth. Note: it's not just candy and soda that cause decay. Crackers, juice and fruit all contain carbohydrates that can cause decay.
Oral habits – Long term oral habits (pacifier, bottle, thumb or finger sucking) can cause the teeth to misalign which can effect your child's speech and chewing ability. Oral habits can also increase your child's risk for dental trauma and restrict jaw growth. Talk to your child's dentist about ways to wean your child's oral habit.
Prevent bacterial transmission – Sometimes, parents clean pacifiers and teething toys by sucking on them. Parents may also share eating utensils with their child. By doing this, parents can transfer harmful oral bacteria to their child, increasing the risk of early cavities and tooth decay. Instead, rinse toys and pacifiers with warm water, and avoid sharing eating utensils and food whenever possible.
Sippy cup use – Sippy cups are an excellent transitional aid when transferring from a baby bottle to an adult drinking glass. However, sippy cups filled with milk, breast milk, soda, juice, and sweetened water cause small amounts of sugary fluid to continually bathe the teeth – meaning acid continually attacks tooth enamel. Sippy cup use should be minimized after 1 year of age.
Brushing – Children’s teeth should be brushed a minimum of two times per day (morning after breakfast and nightly before bedtime) using a soft bristled brush and a pea sized amount of toothpaste. Parents should help with the brushing process until the child reaches the age of seven and is capable of reaching all areas of the mouth. For babies, parents should rub the gum area with a clean cloth after each feeding. Note: children should not eat or drink after brushing at night.
Flossing – Cavities and tooth decay form more easily in between the teeth. Most cavities dentists diagnose are in between the teeth because most people do not floss. Flossing is the only way to loosen plaque and bacteria in between the teeth. Brushing and even a Water Pik cannot adequately clean at the tight contact point where 2 teeth touch. Floss every night before bedtime. Parents should help their children floss as they do not have the coordination to floss on their own.
Fluoride – Fluoride helps prevent mineral loss and strengthens tooth enamel. Too much fluoride can result in fluorosis, a condition where white specks appear on the permanent teeth, and too little can result in tooth decay. It is important to get the fluoride balance correct. The pediatric dentist can evaluate how much the child is currently receiving and prescribe supplements if necessary.
If you have questions or concerns about how to care for your child’s teeth, please ask your pediatric dentist.