Keep your child’s smile healthy and bright!
Image courtesy of American Dental Association
I can remember that feeling of excitement when I first saw the top of a little tooth poking through our oldest child’s gum….I must admit I remember the shock the first time I felt that tooth when I was nursing too!
(Remember, children can bite only if latched incorrectly, and that is usually when they are “playing” at the end of a nursing. Put your child down and say, “that hurts!” If you put your baby down every time he or she bites or you break the nursing latch when you realize your baby is no longer sucking to eat…there will be no problems. Just because your baby is teething or has teeth is not a reason in itself to wean from the breast!)
We have always known that care of those cute little teeth was important, but there has been some recent changes in the recommendations of care. How we care for our child’s teeth will affect his or her health. Those baby teeth ARE important! Dental decay is an active infection in a mouth…and we want to protect those little pearly whites for the best smiles now and down the road!
Dental decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood! 24 percent of children in the U. S. have a cavity before age four! 53 percent by age 8 and 56 percent by age 15. There has been a significant increase of dental decay in children in the 2-4 year old age group. So, what are parents supposed to do to protect our little ones’ precious smiles? There is a plan! http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/11/18/peds.2014-2984.full.pdf+html
- Brush with fluoridated toothpaste at the first sign of a tooth. (Yes you heard me right…that is a big change. Past recommendation was to use “baby toothpaste” without fluoride until age 2!) Starting to brush teeth from moment one teaches a lifelong habit for your child. At a minimum, the recommendation is to brush twice daily, morning and night. The most important brushing is the nighttime one before bed. Parents should use a very small amount of fluoridated toothpaste (the size of a grain of rice) until age 3. (see picture above) After age 3, children and adults should use about a pea size amount of toothpaste. Parents should supervise tooth brushing until about age 8 when most children are proficient. It is not important to worry about what direction to brush on the tooth….just that all sides of the tooth and the gum line are brushed.
- Drink tap water! Many of us have become a bit of “water snobs” drinking only a certain brand of bottled water! Most bottled water does not have fluoride. Fluoridated water has been proven to prevent dental decay in children and adults! So fill up your child’s straw cup and get a glass for yourself too!
- Monitor sugar and sticky foods. We know that tooth decay increases when there is sugar on teeth for long periods of time. Children who drink sugared drinks (this includes juice!) sleep with bottles, or use a sippy cup with milk or juice in it all day are more prone to decay. Keep water in your child’s cup except at meals and stay away from a lot of sugared or sticky foods and treats.
- Prevent bacteria in the mouth. Tooth decay is caused by a bacteria called streptococcus mutans. Parents who have a history of poor dental health (lots of cavities) should be very cautious about sharing cups and cleaning those pacifiers in their own mouths! Transfer of that bacteria early on increases your child’s risk of early dental decay. Most importantly, parents should be sure that their own dental health is good…having active decay that is untreated increases the streptococcus mutans in your mouth increasing the likelihood your child’s mouth will colonize with it too. We want to be sure that the snuggles and kisses you give your child does not transfer bad bacteria…because those kisses are a necessity!!
- Find a dental home for your child. Your child should have a dental visit by age 1. Dentists are a huge part of your child’s health care just like your child’s doctor! Make every 6 month visits to your child’s dentist to promote good dental health. If your child sees the dentist for preventative care, there may never be a need to develop a fear…there will be no cavities!
- Ask about fluoride varnish. Fluoride varnish is a sticky resin of highly concentrated fluoride. Your child can have two or more applications per year and it is very effective in preventing dental decay. Some pediatricians are applying this at well child visits, and often dentists are using this instead of the fluoride rinse or gel of the past. A child can eat right away after this application and it actually will stay on the teeth for a longer time and can help restore early decay.
So those are some of the best tips to prevent dental decay in your child. The habits we form early in our child’s life will have long -lasting effects on their dental health and smiles in the future. Keep your child’s sweet smile bright!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.