FOR THE CARE OF OUR YOUNG PATIENTS:
Eleven Tips for Cavity-Free Children
When a baby is a newborn, what wonderful and seismic changes occur! We wait for an infant to open their eyes, we grin at their first tentative smiles, we are proud of the grasp of tiny determined fists, and we watch in peace when the little one finally sleeps! But of the many “firsts” we relish, no one hopes for dental decay. Thankfully, we now benefit from dental care research that makes childhood visits to the dentist, in most cases, confirmation of things going well, rather than a regrettable course of repairs over the years. Parents and care-givers play the major role in determining whether a child will be on a course of dental health or dental disease.
Here at Dentistry-on-Bellevue in West Vancouver, Dr. Rodney Shainbom prescribes Eleven Tips for Cavity-Free Children. Follow these steps, and by the time your child is 12 years-old, with nearly all of his/her permanent teeth in place, that pre-teen may not have any cavities at all!
1) START CLEANING TEETH RIGHT AWAY – Begin at the beginning with the obvious basics: Babies nor young children can clean their own teeth! Good habits must start right away, during your child’s first week of life. Once eachday, lay your baby down so that you can see clearly into his/her mouth, then wipe the baby’s gums gently with either a baby toothbrush or a damp washcloth wrapped around your finger. A damp square of gauze also works. Do not use toothpaste until your child is old enough to rinse and expectorate.
2) BRUSHING YOUR CHILD’S TEETH – Once your child has teeth, around six months or so, twice daily brushing with a soft toothbrush is recommended. Brush gently in round circles at the point where the teeth meet the gums. Do not brush too hard! Clean every surface of every tooth, but do not scrub. Continue this habit as part of your child’s daily hygiene routine, in the morning and before bedtime.
3) FLOSSING YOUR CHILD’S TEETH – Begin flossing your child’s teeth at an early age as well. Tear off a piece equal to the length of your toddler’s arm, wrap the ends around your index fingers, and gently insert between each of your child’s teeth, pulling back and forth until it feels “squeaky clean”! Floss your child’s teeth daily as part of their bedtime dental hygiene routine. Without bedtime brushing and flossing, sugars have a greater chance to do their damage, due to your child having less saliva in their mouth while sleeping. Saliva provides some protection against cavity development, but only brushing and flossing will remove the sugars and plaque that cause decay.
4) NO JUICE OR MILK BEFORE BEDTIME – The primary cause of childhood caries is exposure to sugars in food and drink. Never put your child to bed with a bottle containing anything other than water. Both fruit juice and milk contain sugars which prompt the bacteria that causes cavities to flourish in your child’s mouth. It is much easier not to begin this habit, than to break it after the child has become accustomed to this sugary means of soothing at bedtime. Research studies have found fewer cavities in children who have been breastfed; however, these babies should still have their gums wiped or brushed before they fall asleep at night.
5) USE FLUORIDE TOOTHPASTE – Many parents are anxious to learn when their child should begin using fluoride toothpaste. The Canadian Dental Association recommends that parents talk with their child’s dentist to determine if their child is at risk for Early Childhood Caries (ECC). These children can benefit from a very tiny amount of toothpaste (equal to the size of a grain of rice) between 1 and 3 years of age. By age three, all children can use fluoride toothpaste, increasing the amount to the size of a pea. Children must spit out after brushing, and use water to rinse and spit again, so that the toothpaste is not swallowed. However, other than fluorosis (spots that appear on teeth from too much fluoride), research has not found any credible links between daily use of fluoride or fluoridated water and any other health concerns.
6) USE FLUORIDATED WATER – If you and your child live in a community that does not provide fluoridated water, incorporating the use of fluoridated bottled water or a rinse can greatly reduce the risk of developing cavities. Fluoride drops can also be prescribed by your dentist.
7) USE REFRIGERATED TEETHING RINGS – When your child reaches age two, he/she will have most, if not all, of their primary teeth revealed above their gums. As anyone knows who has been near a teething child, this eruption of baby teeth can be a painful process. Refrain from giving your child sweetened teething biscuits or other food as means of comfort. Instead, use a refrigerated gel-infused teething spoon or ring. The coolness of the ring feels good against the gums, and does not deposit unwanted sugar.
8) USE PACIFIERS – Parents worry about thumb or finger-sucking and whether they should use pacifiers. It is normal for babies and young children to suck. At the start of life, this behavior is required for nourishment, and later, it is an important step in learning to self-soothe. However, if a child is allowed to suck their thumb or fingers from an early age, this behavior can later cause problems to their jaws and bite. It is much preferable for parents to control a child’s use of a pacifier, instead of allowing the child to form a thumb-sucking habit, which can last for years. At no time should a parent put anything sweet on a pacifier, even if they think it is “natural” (i.e., honey, milk, fruit juice, peanut butter, etc.).
9) REDUCE SUGAR – Diet plays a central role in developing a healthy lifestyle, from birth through old age. Avoid giving your child sodas, pop, fruit juices and sweetened sports drinks as means of satisfying thirst. It is said that when we feel hungry, we are likely to be thirsty. Our bodies’ need is for water, not for the several teaspoons or tablespoons of sugar found in one serving of the drinks listed above. Crunchy foods, like apples, celery and carrots are also good for the development of your child’s teeth as they emerge, once they are old enough to manage these types of solid foods.
10) REGULAR TWICE/YEAR DENTAL VISITS – Visits to the dentist should begin at a very young age and continue twice/year throughout life. A child’s first visit to the dentist can be as early as 12 – 18 months, but should definitely be no later than 3 years of age. In either case, your child should be accustomed to having their mouth opened and checked by their parent daily, because they will require their parents to brush their teeth for them until they gain the dexterity to do so by themselves. One guiding rule is that when your child can write their own name (age 4 – 5), only then will they be able to brush their teeth on their own. Prepare your child for their first visit to the dentist by a) being a model of good brushing habits for your child at home; b) making morning and evening dental hygiene activities a positive time of the day; c) bringing your child with you for your dental check-up shortly before their first visit, so they can see for themselves how enjoyable it is to go to the dentist; d) pointing out the rewards your child will experience from having clean teeth and regular dental exams.
11) MODEL GOOD DENTAL HYGIENE – The best gift you can give your child, in addition to starting them off with twice daily brushing and flossing, is modeling the same consistency of care of your own teeth. Let them see you brush and floss and see your dentist regularly. It will be the “Do as I say, and, Do as I do” approach to parenting! Your child will thank you when they are adults and are living their full life with all of their teeth!