Care of Your Child’s Teeth
Daily brushing will help keep your child’s teeth healthy and clean. As soon as the first tooth erupts, brushing, or wiping the teeth with a clean cloth, should begin. A smear amount of fluoride toothpaste can be used after the child is old enough not to swallow it. By age 4 or 5, children should be able to brush their own teeth twice a day, but adult supervision is necessary until age 7-8 to make sure they are doing a thorough job. However, each child is different. Your dentist can help you determine whether the child has the skill level to brush properly.
Proper brushing removes plaque from the inner, outer and chewing surfaces. When teaching children to brush, place toothbrush at a 45 degree angle; start along gum line with a soft bristle brush in a gentle circular motion. Brush the outer surfaces of each tooth, upper and lower. Repeat the same method on the inside surfaces and chewing surfaces of all the teeth. Finish by brushing the tongue to help freshen breath and remove bacteria.
Flossing removes plaque between the teeth, where a toothbrush can’t reach. Flossing should begin when any two teeth touch. You should floss the child’s teeth until he or she can do it alone. Use about 18 inches of floss, winding most of it around the middle fingers of both hands. Hold the floss lightly between the thumbs and forefingers. Use a gentle, back-and-forth motion to guide the floss between the teeth. Curve the floss into a C-shape and slide it into the space between the gum and tooth until you feel resistance. Gently scrape the floss against the side of the tooth. Repeat this procedure on each tooth. Don’t forget the backs of the last four teeth.
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Tooth Friendly Eating Habits
Healthy eating habits lead to healthy teeth. Like the rest of the body, the teeth, bones and the soft tissues of the mouth need a well-balanced diet. Children should eat a variety of foods from the five major food groups. However, some foods that would be considered healthy for the body are not tooth friendly. Most snacks that children eat can lead to cavity formation. Also, the more frequently a child snacks, the greater the chances for tooth decay to occur (i.e. grazing on snacks throughout the day). How long food remains in the mouth also plays a role. For example, sticky retentive foods like crackers or fruit chews stay in the mouth a long time, which cause longer acid attacks on tooth enamel.
If your child must snack, choose nutritious foods such as vegetables, low-fat yogurt, and low-fat cheese, which are healthier and better for children’s teeth. Avoid fermentable carbohydrate snacks, like cheese crackers, graham crackers, fruit chews, chewy granola bars, pretzels, and chips. Also, encourage your child to wait 2 hours between meals and snacks, or anytime your child eats or drinks. Sugary, acidic liquids like juice, sweetened milks, kool-aid, sports drinks, and sugar substitute sports drinks can also create a long acid challenge in the mouth and accelerate decay. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry along with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting juice consumption to 4 ounces a day. Furthermore, do not sweeten milk to encourage consumption. Juice and milk are mealtime drinks. If your child is thirsty throughout the day, have your child drink water.
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How Do I Prevent Cavities?
Good oral hygiene removes bacteria and the left over food particles that combine to create cavities. For infants, use a wet gauze or clean washcloth to wipe the plaque from teeth and gums. Avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle filled with anything other than water.
For older children, brush their teeth at least twice a day. Also, watch the number of snacks containing sugar that you give your children.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends visits every six months to the pediatric dentist, beginning at your child’s first birthday. Routine visits will start your child on a lifetime of good dental health.
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Sealants, does my child need them?
A sealant is a white plastic coating that is applied to the grooves of the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (premolars and molars). Sealants act as a barrier to food, plaque and acid, thus protecting the decay-prone areas of the teeth. Sealants are typically indicated for permanent teeth early after they have erupted. Once sealants are applied, they must be maintained by a dentist to ensure adequate protection through the years. Brushing and flossing are still necessary to prevent cavities after teeth have been sealed.
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Fluoride is an element which has been shown to be beneficial to teeth. However, too little or too much fluoride can be detrimental to the teeth. Little or no fluoride will not strengthen the teeth to help them resist cavities. Excessive fluoride ingestion by preschool-aged children can lead to dental fluorosis, which is an irreversible chalky white to even brown discoloration of the permanent teeth. Identifying all sources of fluoride for your child is key to ensuring optimal fluoride exposure while preventing dental fluorosis. Fluoride is found in:
- Municipal water supplies (city water). You must check with your water company to verify supplementation or search the CDC application “My Water’s Fluoride”;
- Hidden sources of fluoride in the child’s diet;
- Some foods and drinks (occurring either naturally or during manufacture). Some examples are tea, white grape juice, tuna fish;
- Anti-cavity mouth rinses;
- Certain baby foods (powdered infant formula, soy-based infant formula, dry cereals, infant chicken products, creamed spinach).
Children up to the age of 4 may not be able to expectorate (spit out) fluoride-containing toothpaste when brushing. As a result, these youngsters may ingest an excessive amount of fluoride during tooth brushing. Swallowing toothpaste during this critical period of permanent tooth development is the greatest risk factor in the development of fluorosis.
Excessive and inappropriate intake of fluoride supplements (fluoride drops, tablets, and fluoride fortified vitamins) may also contribute to fluorosis. A detailed discussion with your pediatric dentist or pediatrician identifying all sources of fluoride is necessary before supplements should be prescribed.
Parents can take the following steps to decrease the risk of fluorosis in their children’s teeth:
- Use fluoride-free toothpaste on very young children and infants.
- Place only a smear of children’s toothpaste on the brush when brushing.
- Avoid giving any fluoride-containing supplements to infants before 6 months of age.
- Reconstitute infant formula with distilled water.
- Consider alternatives to fluoride supplements such as purchasing fluoridated water from grocery stores for very young children who cannot expectorate or using an anti-cavity rinse after school or after lunch for older children after you verify you have a non-fluoridated water supply (reverse osmosis filtration system, most well water, bottled water)
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A properly fitted mouth guard, or mouth protector, is an important piece of athletic gear that can help protect your child’s smile and prevent serious facial injury during sporting and recreational activities. It is not only indicated for full contact sports like football and hockey, but is indicated for other activities that could result in a blow to the face or mouth, such as basketball, martial arts, skateboarding, soccer, and sports with flying objects (field hockey, baseball, lacrosse)
Mouth guards are available in stock form store-bought sizes or can be custom made. Each mouth protector should fit properly with no movement during speech, and not interfere with breathing. Your pediatric dentist can advise you in which form of mouth protection would be best for your child. back to top »
Xylitol – Reducing Cavities
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recognizes the benefits of xylitol on the oral health of infants, children, adolescents, and persons with special health care needs.
The use of XYLITOL GUM by mothers (5 times per day) starting 3 months after delivery and until the child was 2 years old, has proven to reduce cavities up to 70% by the time the child was 5 years old.
Studies using xylitol as either a sugar substitute or a small dietary addition have demonstrated a dramatic reduction in new tooth decay, along with some reversal of existing dental caries. Xylitol provides additional protection that enhances all existing prevention methods. This xylitol effect is long-lasting and possibly permanent. Low decay rates persist even years after the trials have been completed.
Xylitol is widely distributed throughout nature in small amounts. Some of the best sources are fruits, berries, mushrooms, lettuce, hardwoods, and corn cobs. One cup of raspberries contains less than one gram of xylitol.
Strive for 5 exposures a day! Studies suggest xylitol intake that consistently produces positive results ranged from 4-20 grams per day, divided into 3-7 consumption periods. Higher results did not result in greater reduction and may lead to diminishing results. Similarly, consumption frequency of less than 3 times per day showed no effect.
To find gum, mouth rinse, toothpaste, tooth gel, mints or other products containing xylitol, visit us at our office, contact your local health food store or search the Internet to find products containing 100% xylitol.
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