FEBRUARY IS NATIONAL
CHILDREN'S DENTAL HEALTH MONTH
Caring for Primary Teeth
Take good care of your child's baby teeth. They do eventually fall out. But until they do, your child's baby teeth play an important role by helping your child bite and chew food, and speak clearly. Baby teeth also save space for the permanent teeth, and help guide them into place.
Begin using fluoridated toothpaste to brush your child's teeth when the child is 2 years old. Be careful to use only a small dab of toothpaste (about the size of your child's pinky fingernail). Young children tend to swallow toothpaste when brushing rather than spit it out. Though it's uncommon, this can sometimes lead to fluorosis and cosmetic problems in the permanent teeth.
As soon as two teeth touch each other, floss between them once a day. You can use regular floss or special plastic floss holders
Early Childhood Caries
Early childhood caries, or ECC, is a serious form of cavities. It can quickly destroy your child's teeth. In the past it has been called baby bottom tooth-decay nursing caries or nursing bottle syndrome. ECC often occurs when your baby's teeth are exposed to sugars for long periods throughout the day. Baby bottles or sippy cups with fruit juice or milk both contain sugars. When these liquids are in the mouth, bacteria start eating the sugars and then produce acids. These acids cause decay if they remain on teeth long enough.
Early childhood caries can occur if your child:
- Is put to bed with a bottle filled with any liquid other than plain water
- Drinks from a bottle filled with sugary liquids or milk during the day
- Receives a pacifier dipped in sugar, honey or a sweet liquid
Decayed teeth that are not fixed can cause pain and infection. Teeth that are very badly decayed may need to be removed. Tooth decay is a bacterial infection, and it can spread if it is not treated. Also, the permanent teeth under the gum can be affected if the decay is not treated.
The Permanent Teeth
Children typically start to lose their baby teeth and replace them with adult teeth when they are 6 or 7 years old. Some children start losing teeth earlier. Others start later. The order that your child's teeth come in is more important than when they start to come in.
Most often, the first permanent teeth to come in are the lower front four teeth. However, some children get their first permanent molars (sometimes called the 6-year molars) first.
The 6-year molars come in behind the primary teeth. They do not replace primary teeth. Around age 11 or 12, the second permanent molars (also called 12-year molars) come in behind the 6 year molars.
By the time your child is 13 years old, most of his permanent teeth will be in place Wisdom Teeth or third molars, come in between ages 17 and 21. However, some people don't get any wisdom teeth, or don't get all four. More often, wisdom teeth develop, but there may not be room in the mouth for them.
Caring for Permanent Teeth
You should continue to help your children brush their teeth twice a day until they are 8 years old or can show that they can do a good job on their own. Brush after breakfast and before bed. Keep your children's teeth free of food particles, especially the molars. Molars have lots of little grooves and crevices. Food particles can hide there and act as food for bacteria.
Your dentist also can place sealants on your children's molars to protect them from decay. But it's still important to brush and floss.
A few other tips:
- Use a soft nylon toothbrush with a pea-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste.
- Teach your child to spit out the foamy saliva.
- As soon as any two of your child's teeth touch each other, floss between them. After age 9, children can floss their own teeth. Flossing removes food from between the teeth where a toothbrush can't reach.
- Talk to your child's dentist or doctor to be sure he or she is getting the right amount of fluoride.
Diet and Your Child's Teeth
While what your child eats is important for healthy teeth, how often a child eats is just as important. Frequent snacking can increase a child's risk for decay.
Cavities can develop when sugar-containing foods are allowed to stay in the mouth for a long time. Bacteria that live in the mouth feast on these bits of food. They create acid, which eats away at tooth and enamel. Between meals or snacks, saliva washes away the acid. If your child is always eating, there may not be time for this acid to get washed away.
When most people think of sugar, they think of the white sugar that is found in candy and baked goods. But all foods that contain carbohydrates will ultimately break down into sugars. Bacteria don't care whether you eat a lollipop or a pretzel. It tastes the same to them!
Here are a few tips for snacking and mealtime:
- Give your child healthy snack foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables and cheeses.
- Buy foods that are sugar-free or unsweetened.
- Serve sugary or starchy foods as part of a meal rather than as a snack. Most children drink liquids during a meal. This will wash many bits of food off the teeth. Saliva also does a good job of clearing the teeth.
- Avoid certain foods unless your child plans to brush right after he or she eats them. These foods get between teeth and are hard to remove from the grooves in the tooth surface. Some of these foods include:
- Dried figs
- Granola bars
- Jelly beans
- Potato chips
- Puffed oat cereal
- Offer fewer snacks.
- After your child snacks, make sure his or her teeth are brushed. If this isn't possible, have your child rinse with water several times.
- Encourage your child to choose xylitol-sweetened or sugar-free gum.