Keeping your child’s baby teeth healthy and strong is important to their oral and overall health and development. Baby teeth begin to appear around 6 months and can last until a child is 13 or 14. They are an important part of your child’s nutrition, speech development, self-confidence and play a significant role in the placement of permanent adult teeth.
Without proper care and attention children can suffer from dental decay (cavities). Decay is caused when sugars in the mouth mix with plaque bacteria to create an acid that can destroy tooth enamel. The longer sugar is in the mouth, the more acid is produced, increasing the risk of cavities.
Dental decay is painful—it can lead to infections and tooth loss. Children with dental disease may also have trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating and suffer emotional distress—feeling bad about the way they look.
Dental disease is not always recognizable. Pain is usually a sign there is a problem but very young children are not able to explain when they are in pain.
The good news is that dental disease is preventable. Establishing healthy habits from an early age, including regular dental exams, can start your child on the path to good oral health.
Set your child up for good dental health:
– Caring for the mouth starts early. Begin by cleaning your baby’s mouth using a wet cloth and gently wiping the gums to remove any leftover milk or formula from the mouth.
– Brush your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears and make sure you lift the lip to brush along the gum line. Young children cannot clean their own teeth. Brush for them when they are very young and with them as they grow older.
– Use a soft toothbrush. Choose an appropriate size for the age of the child.
– Make brushing fun and develop a routine: brush at a specific time (after a bath or before a book); in a specific location (mom’s knee); or with specific cues (music, counting).
– Use a small amount of fluoride toothpaste to protect the teeth from cavities. Children under the age of 3 should only use a smear (size of a grain of rice) while those over 3 can use a pea-sized amount. Encourage your children to spit out the toothpaste.
– Cavity-causing bacteria can transfer from your mouth to your child’s. Avoid sharing soothers, toothbrushes or other items with your child.
– Regardless of age, discourage grazing on sugary foods and drinks throughout the day or overnight. For instance, constant and slow sipping on milk-filled bottles or sippy cups with juice, keeps sugars in the mouth and can lead to cavities—fill them with water instead.
– Choose healthy snacks such as cheese, fruit or nuts. What’s good for the body is good for the mouth.
– The earlier a dental problem is found, the easier it is to fix. Check your child’s mouth and visit the dentist regularly.
– Look in your child’s mouth for signs of disease such as brown or yellow spots on the teeth. Other signs that your child may be suffering from dental disease include: trouble sleeping; difficulty concentrating; and, avoiding certain foods, such as cold drinks and foods.
– The first dental visit should take place by age one or within six months of when you see the first tooth. Through regular examinations your dentist will monitor the development of your child’s teeth and gums to catch problems early and prevent disease. Starting dental visits early can also improve your child’s comfort with visiting the dentist.
Remember, children learn by example: if you look after your own teeth and gums, your children will too.