To give your child the best prospect for a healthy life, start taking proper care of gums and teeth early.
Prevention should start with infancy. Breastfeeding is an important influence on proper facial growth and development. The muscle power it takes for infants to breastfeed promotes proper growth and development of the jaw and airways. This may lessen the chance of crooked teeth and help prevent future breathing issues, such as sleep apnea.
Good oral health care should start before the teeth are even erupted. Bacteria that grow daily in the mouth are the main cause of cavities and gum disease. Wipe your infant’s gums daily with a clean warm cloth.
As soon as your child’s first tooth starts coming in, begin brushing for your infant before bedtime. Use a soft toothbrush and a rice/smear-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
Bring your child to the dentist by his or her first birthday or as soon as the first tooth starts to erupt.
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Floss your child’s teeth daily as soon your child has two teeth touching to help prevent decay between the teeth where a toothbrush cannot reach.
At age 2 to 3, parents can begin to teach their child proper brushing techniques. Parents will need to follow up with brushing and flossing for them until age 7 or 8, when the child has the dexterity and maturity to do a good job.
Limit your child’s sugar intake. Bacteria in the mouth feed on the sugar that we consume. Cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth eat the sugars and produce acid attacks on the teeth, destroying the enamel and resulting in cavities. Consider these tips:
• To prevent baby bottle tooth decay, avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle or sippy cup.
• Avoid sugary snacks and drinks (like juices and sodas), especially between meals.
• Do not give your child a bottle or sippy cup filled with sweet drinks to use like a pacifier.
• Sipping on pop and juice throughout the day is a major cavity-causing habit.
At your child’s dental visit, the dentist will check for cavities and developmental problems, as well as give advice for keeping the mouth healthy. Topical fluoride varnish treatments may be applied at this time to help prevent future cavities.
Ask your dentist about sealants that can be placed on your child’s permanent first and second molars, which usually come in around 6 and 12 year of age. Sealants prevent cavities by filling in the pits and grooves in the biting surfaces of the teeth. This prevents the cavity-causing bacteria from gathering in areas that are hard to reach with a toothbrush.
Your own dental habits affect your child’s dental health. Limit the transmission of cavity-causing bacteria from your mouth to your child’s mouth. Transmission usually occurs when the child is anywhere from 6 to 26 months of age. If the cavity-causing bacteria is not introduced in their mouth early on, children are less likely to have cavities throughout their lives. To reduce this transmission, avoid sharing food, eating utensils and drinking cups. Never put a pacifier in your mouth before the child’s mouth.
Another way to reduce this bacterial transmission is by decreasing the amount of the cavity-causing bacteria in your own mouth through brushing and flossing daily and making regular dental visits. It’s best to establish good oral health before pregnancy and maintain good prevention habits throughout parenthood – for your child’s sake and yours.
Shawnell Miller, lead dental hygienist at RiverStone Health Dental Clinic, can be reached at 406-247-3333.