Dental Health

Good dental habits start early:

Parents play a big part in helping their children develop good dental habits by:

  • providing early monitoring by a pediatrician.
  • providing regular care by a dental professional.
  • teaching proper and routine brushing.
  • providing enough fluoride.
  • providing a proper diet.
  • protecting against injury.

Children should have regular dental checkups after age 3, when all 20 baby teeth have come in, or as recommended by a pediatrician. Some children may need to visit to the dentist earlier.

Baby teeth are important:

Baby teeth, or primary teeth, are important because they help children:

  • chew food
  • speak clearly
  • retain space for permanent teeth

Children that learn to take care of their teeth at a young age are more likely to have good dental habits as adults.

During teething, a baby's gums may become swollen and a one-piece teething ring or pacifier may ease the discomfort, Dentists discourage parents from dipping these rings in sweet liquids, which can stay on the teeth and provide a source of bacteria that can cause tooth decay.

Daily cleaning should start as soon as the baby's first tooth appears using a piece of gauze or a damp cloth to wipe the tooth/teeth clean. Switch to a toothbrush with a small (pea-sized) amount of fluoride toothpaste, as the child gets older.

Some children may develop decay in spite of the best preventive efforts. Check the teeth for early signs of decay, which may appear as white, yellow, or brown spots on the teeth.

What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a natural chemical that:

  • strengthens enamel, the hard outer coating on teeth
  • helps prevent decay
  • helps repair early damage to teeth

Fluoride is available in most municipal water supplies, and is also available as a supplement. The fluoride content of local water supplies varies. Water that has low levels of fluoride can be a problem for infants who get very little fluoride from breast milk or formula. Check with your local water department to find out the exact water-fluoride level in your area. Then talk with your pediatrician to see if your child needs additional fluoride.

What about thumb sucking?

Thumb sucking is normal in infants and young children and should cause no permanent problems if not continued past the age of 5. Likewise, it is generally harmless for infants to use pacifiers. Children who suck their thumbs past the age of 5 may need a referral to a pediatric dentist to determine if problems are developing.

Habits that are bad for a child's teeth:

  • Sweets like candy or cookies can lead to tooth decay.
  • Starchy foods such as crackers and sticky foods such as raisins, tend to stay on the teeth and are also more likely to lead to tooth decay.
  • Sugar from fruits and fruit juices left on the teeth for long periods of time is not healthy for teeth. Starches and fruits, however, are a necessary part of any child's diet. To avoid tooth decay, give children these foods only at mealtime (before the teeth have been brushed), not at bedtime. For healthy teeth, offer children a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods.

This page was last updated: April 2, 2013

         
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