My admiration for my husband includes his teeth. At 42 years old he has never had a cavity, not one! His dental regimen is conscientious but not obsessive. He just lucked out in the genetic lottery. However, American children (including my own) are still getting cavities. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
“Although dental caries has declined significantly among school-aged children since the early 1970s, dental caries has remained the most prevalent chronic disease of childhood.”
So, what can we do to prevent cavities and improve our family’s dental health no matter what our genetic tendencies?
- Your child should be seen by a dentist by age one. The goal of this visit is early detection of potential problems and to establish a dental routine.
- Children over 2 years old can use a pea size amount of fluoridated toothpaste. They should be taught to spit out the toothpaste when they are finished brushing-the excess fluoride can cause white spots on their teeth. Babies under 2 years old should use a non-fluoridated, infant/toddler toothpaste.
- DO NOT PUT YOUR BABY TO BED WITH A BOTTLE OF MILK OR JUICE. Your baby will be bathing his teeth in sugar throughout the whole night and can develop early, extensive dental decay. I know it is a pain but teeth should be brushed after the night time bottle of milk.
- Be wary of sticky food! I learned the hard way that fruit bars, even the “healthy” 100% fruit bars get stuck on teeth and cause cavities. Try to time sticky treats for when teeth will be brushed shortly after.
- BEWARE OF THE SIPPY CUP. Allowing your children to sip from a juice or milk cup throughout the day exposes their teeth repeatedly to sugar and puts them at risk for decay. Give milk or juice with meals and water at other times.
- Begin brushing twice per day once your child has his first tooth. Before his teeth erupt, you can wash his gums with a wash cloth to remove bacteria. Once your child has two teeth that touch, you should begin flossing every day. The flossing is a really ambitious goal in our house but we are trying. Monitor your child until at least age 8 to be sure all teeth are adequately brushed and flossed.
- If your child knocks out a baby tooth, put the tooth in a bag and call your dentist. Although baby teeth are not re-implanted, the dentist will need to evaluate your child for fragments retained in the gum and the need for a spacer while waiting for the permanent teeth to come in.
- A knocked out permanent tooth is an emergency. Pick up the tooth by the crown (do not touch the root) and place it back in the socket (preferably) or between your child’s gum and cheek or in milk. Seek medical attention immediately.
- If your water supply is not fluoridated, if your child only drinks bottled water or if you have a well, your child may not be getting enough fluoride. Talk to your pediatrician or dentist to see if your child needs fluoride supplements.
- If your child sucks his thumb/fingers or uses a pacifier after age three, he should have regular dental checks to assess his teeth and jaw alignment. After age three, you can encourage your child to only suck at sleep time and then eventually to stop. If your child is having a very difficult time parting with his thumb, a mouth appliance may be recommended by your pediatric dentist.