Our pediatricians share helpful information about dental hygiene for kids. Preventing cavities and tooth decay before they begin is key.
Dental caries (i.e. tooth decay/cavities) is the most common chronic disease of childhood in the United States. More than 40% of children have caries by the time they reach kindergarten! Fortunately, a large number of cases are preventable by establishing good oral health habits in early childhood.
What causes cavities?
Three factors play a role in the development of cavities: bacteria, carbohydrate-rich diets, and time. Bacteria colonize the baby’s mouth from birth, but a significant colonization of tooth-adherent bacteria occurs right after a child has his/her first tooth. These bacteria metabolize carbohydrates and create acid as a byproduct, which then dissolves the enamel (a process called demineralization) and over time can create a cavity in the tooth.
Preventing tooth decay is key
- Parents, caregivers and siblings should avoid passing bacteria to babies through saliva.
- Avoid sharing spoons and cups
- Avoid tasting foods before feeding them to babies
- Avoid cleaning off a pacifier in your mouth
- Limit the frequency of carbohydrate consumption.
- Avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle of formula, milk, or juice
- Avoid frequently allowing your child to drink anything other than water from a sippy cup or bottle between meals
- Avoid grazing between meals
- Choose healthier foods.
- Avoid juices (maybe at birthday parties only!)
- Avoid sweet and sticky foods like candy, gummies, cookies, and Fruit Roll-Ups
- If you are giving a multivitamin, avoid gummy vitamins
- Sugar is in foods like crackers and chips too. Avoid these as much as possible
- Expose your child to fluoride (which helps with remineralization of the enamel)
- Check to see if you have enough fluoride in your tap water (for cooking/drinking) by checking on the website My Water’s Fluoride
- If your tap water does not have enough fluoride your child may need a fluoride supplement
- Receive regular dental care
- Make the first dentist appt within 6 months after the first tooth
- Ask your pediatrician for dentist referrals at the one-year well visit
- Practice good oral hygiene
- Before the first tooth, clean your infant’s gums with a soft clean damp cloth at least once per day
- After the first tooth erupts, brush teeth twice a day with a rice-grain-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush with a small head
- Once your child can spit out the toothpaste, use a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste
- Have the child spit out the toothpaste, but not rinse with water
- For effective plaque removal, make sure a caregiver brushes your toddler’s teeth at least once per day
- After children develop adequate fine motor skills (i.e. the ability to tie their own shoelaces; typically around the age of 7 or 8), they can brush their own teeth effectively but should be supervised by an adult
- Once your child is old enough to tolerate it, floss daily to remove plaque between the teeth
Teach your child to drink from a cup by 12-15 months
Fluoride has 3 main mechanisms of action:
- It promotes enamel remineralization
- It reduces enamel demineralization
- It inhibits bacterial metabolism and acid production
- For nearly 70 years, studies have shown consistently that fluoridation of community water supplies is safe and effective in preventing tooth decay
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has named community water fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century
- Fluoride exists naturally in virtually all water supplies and even in various brands of bottled water
- Fluoride is not a medication. It is an important mineral that, when regulated at the right level in our drinking water, can prevent tooth decay and saves millions of dollars for families and the health care system
- Drinking fluoridated water reduces cavities by about 25% in children and adults
- Making sure that children also brush with fluoride toothpaste and see the dentist regularly for fluoride varnish has also helped with improving oral health
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