Prevention is Key to Good Dental Health
During February we observe National Children’s Dental Health Month, the month set aside to teach children how to practice good dental health habits. Since every day routines are important to help children learn and establish healthy habits, adults should guide tooth-brushing, flossing, and rinsing every morning and evening for children from birth to age 6, or until they can prove they will clean their teeth well. The evening brushing is a habit that should not be missed because foods that remain on the teeth while the mouth is dry throughout the night, leaves teeth more vulnerable to the bacteria in plaque. Routine visits to the dentist or a health care provider who provides an oral assessment, is an important step in total dental health care. Baby teeth may be temporary, but serve an important purpose in a child’s mouth. Permanent teeth should last a lifetime with good care. Make dental health a priority in your family.
Oral Care for Infants
- After feedings wipe baby’s gums with gauze or a clean damp cloth.
- Never put anything in a baby’s mouth that has been in an adult’s mouth because babies are born without any bacteria in their mouths and sharing an object that has been in an adult’s mouth introduces unfriendly bacteria to the baby.
- Once teeth begin growing into a baby’s mouth, clean them with a soft child’s toothbrush and water after feedings and before night-time sleep.
- Do not put baby to bed with a bottle of milk, juice, or any sugared beverage. This can cause baby bottle tooth decay.
- It is recommended a one year old baby visit a dentist to determine if any problems may arise as the baby teeth grow in and to accustom the baby to a stranger looking inside the mouth. Once all 20 of the primary teeth have grown in the mouth, the toddler needs to visit the dentist.
Dental Health in Preschool-Aged Children
- Introduce a small smear of toothpaste with fluoride on a toothbrush for a preschool-aged child, brushing at least twice a day, morning and night before bed. Make sure the child spits the toothpaste out, without swallowing it.
- At age 3 to 5 a child can have a pea-sized amount of toothpaste for brushing. Supervised tooth-brushing is still recommended until the child can handle the brush and clean all the areas of the mouth well and spit the paste out.
Dental Health in School-Aged Children
- Once a child is old enough to hold the toothbrush and clean the teeth well, an adult should watch the brushing to make sure all the tooth surfaces are being cleaned well and the toothpaste is being spit out. Fluoride mouth rinses can be introduced if the child can swish and spit now.
- At around age 6 years, the baby incisors become loose and come out, with permanent incisors replacing them. Also around age 6, the 6 year molar (permanent tooth) grows in the back of the mouth, behind the baby molars, so no baby tooth falls out when this permanent molar erupts.
- Children who play sports should wear mouth guards to protect their teeth.
Cavities - A Disease Process
Cavities (also known as caries) are part of the disease process in teeth that occur when bacteria in the mouth mix with sugars from foods forming acid on the teeth. Acid attacks can last 20 minutes or more. Over time, the acid eats away at the hard outer surface of the tooth called the enamel, creating a hole. If this disease process is not stopped and repaired, the cavity will continue to go through to the next layer of the tooth, the dentin. At this point, the child will begin to feel discomfort. If the cavity reaches the center of the tooth, the pulp, where the nerve fibers and blood vessel supply are stored, the pain will be strong and the bacteria may cause an abscess. Also, the bacteria can enter the blood supply to the body causing systemic infection that can travel to the heart or brain.
How to Keep Teeth Healthy
- Brush teeth well at least twice a day
- Floss teeth to remove plaque on the in-between sides of teeth
- Rinse the mouth well using a fluoride mouth rinse
- Visit the dentist routinely for cleanings and inspections
- Wear mouth guards for participation in sports
- Never use your teeth to open or cut objects
- Eat a nutritious diet including foods with calcium and vitamin D and plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Limit the number of times per day sugary foods are eaten
- Talk with the child’s dentist if thumb- sucking is an issue