Tooth Decay Prevention:
Begin daily brushing as soon as your child’s first tooth appears! Your baby’s teeth and gums should be cleaned with a soft, wet gauze pad or wash cloth after each nursing or use of the bottle. Nighttime brushing is the most important because this is when cavities begin. Do not put your child to bed with anything other than water! A soft bristled toothbrush with a very small head should be used to brush twice a day, and a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste can be used after your child is old enough. We ask our parents to help with at least one brushing a day until age six, preferably the nightly brushing. Then please supervise brushing until your child learns to do a thorough job, usually around 7-10 years of age. Proper brushing of your child’s teeth removes plaque from all surfaces of his/her teeth. Once contacts between teeth develop, sometimes as young as age three, flossing should be implemented.
Healthy eating means healthy teeth! But be careful… Many foods can cause cavities, even some which are healthy! Monitor the frequency that your child gets snacks and drinks. The more often children snack and get juice or milk, the higher the risk of getting cavities. Water is always best between meals and snacks to help rinse out the mouth. Also be mindful of the consistency of foods. Sticky, chewy foods that have tendencies to get stuck in teeth, like raisins and granola bars, can remain on the teeth for long periods of time causing an increased risk of decay.
Sealants are an excellent way to protecting the chewing surfaces of your child’s teeth that have never had a filling and do not have decay. They do only protect the chewing surface though, not between the teeth, so good brushing and flossing is still necessary.
The purpose of the sealant is to smooth out the grooves and crevices of your child’s back teeth where the plaque, bacteria, and food accumulate. Sealants fill up these grooves and allow food to slide off the tooth surface. A sealant is a white material that is placed on the chewing surfaces of the teeth and protects them from decay by acting as a physical barrier between the enamel and plaque or food. Sealants are most commonly placed on permanent molars due to their anatomy, but other teeth may benefit from sealants as well.
Replacement of your child’s sealants may be needed after three to five years as normal wear, such as chewing, can weaken them over time. Regular six month check-ups are needed to evaluate the condition of the sealants and to evaluate if reapplication is needed.
Fluoride is a natural element that is safe and effective when used appropriately, and can be very useful in preventing decay or reversing the early signs of decay. It works in several ways, including making your child’s teeth stronger against acid attacks from food and drinks, repairing minimally damaged tooth structure, and affecting the actual bacteria that cause cavities. Toothpastes, fluoride rinses, and in-office applications all work together to prevent dental disease. The dentist will discuss what fluoride regimen is best suited for your child.
The most important thing regarding fluoride treatment is the proper dosage! Too little fluoride and your child’s teeth may not be as cavity resistant. Too much fluoride in younger children with developing permanent teeth can lead to dental fluorosis and discoloration of your child’s teeth. In this situation, your child’s permanent teeth will have a chalky white to brown striated appearance. To minimize the risk of too much fluoride, monitor the amount of toothpaste used and encourage your child not to swallow. For some of our patients in braces, we may recommend a fluoride rinse or special toothpaste to minimize the decalcification and decay around brackets.
Bad Oral Habits:
Sucking is a natural reflex, and infants and young children may use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers, or other objects on which to suck. It may make your child feel happy and provide a sense of security during difficult periods. However, oral habits that persist for too long can cause problems with the proper growth of your child’s mouth and tooth alignment, resulting in the need for future orthodontic treatment. How intensely your child sucks on a finger or a thumb will determine whether or not dental problems may develop. Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouth are less likely to have problems than those who strongly suck their thumbs.
Your child should stop the oral habit by the age of 3, and definitely by the time that his/her permanent front teeth erupt. The longer the habit is kept, the more severe the alterations on jaw relations and tooth positioning resulting in several adverse situations, including but not limited to open bite, crossbite, and protrusion of teeth. Peer pressure may cause school-aged children to stop. However, there are several options that the Pediatric Dentist will discuss with you to encourage your child to stop the habit if it doesn’t resolve on its own.
A few suggestions to help your child stop his/her sucking habits:
- awareness of the habit is the first step in ending the habit
- use positive reinforcement by praising your child when he/she is not sucking, avoid scolding them when he/she is sucking as this may reinforce the habit because they might feel insecure
- remind your child of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock or mitten on your child’s hand at night
- Children often suck their thumb when feeling insecure… focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety, instead of the habit. Often school teachers can be helpful in identifying stressful situations.