What should I know about brushing and flossing my child’s teeth?
Begin daily brushing as soon as the child’s first tooth erupts. A pea size 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 with supervision until about age seven 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.
How do diet and nutrition affect my child’s teeth?
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. Most snacks that children eat can lead to cavity formation. The more frequently a child snacks, the greater the chance for tooth decay. How long food remains in the mouth also plays a role. For example, hard candy and breath mints 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.
How do I help my child 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. See “What is baby bottle tooth decay (Early Childhood Caries) and how can I prevent it?” for more information.
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.
Your pediatric dentist may also recommend protective sealants or home fluoride treatments for your child. Sealants can be applied to your child’s molars to prevent decay on hard to clean surfaces.
How do protective sealants work?
A sealant is a clear or shaded plastic material that is applied to the chewing surfaces (grooves) of the back teeth (premolars and molars), where four out of five cavities in children are found. This sealant acts as a barrier to food, plaque and acid, thus protecting the decay-prone areas of the teeth.
What is fluoride and how does it affect teeth?
Fluoride is a compound that contains the naturally occurring element fluorine. It 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 a chalky white to even brown discoloration of the permanent teeth. Many children often get more fluoride than their parents realize. Being aware of a child’s potential sources of fluoride can help parents prevent the possibility of dental fluorosis.
Some of these sources are:
- Too much fluoridated toothpaste at an early age.
- The inappropriate use of fluoride supplements.
- Hidden sources of fluoride in the child’s diet.
Children as young as 2 or 3-years-old 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. Toothpaste ingestion 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 may also contribute to fluorosis. Fluoride drops and tablets, as well as fluoride fortified vitamins should not be given to infants younger than six months of age. After that time, fluoride supplements should only be given to children after all of the sources of ingested fluoride have been accounted for and upon the recommendation of your pediatrician or pediatric dentist.
Certain foods contain high levels of fluoride, especially powdered concentrate infant formula, soy-based infant formula, infant dry cereals, creamed spinach, and infant chicken products. Please read the label or contact the manufacturer. Some beverages also contain high levels of fluoride, especially decaffeinated teas, white grape juices, and juice drinks manufactured in fluoridated cities.
Parents can take the following steps to decrease the risk of fluorosis in their children’s teeth:
- Use baby tooth cleanser on the toothbrush of the very young child.
- Place only a pea sized drop of children’s toothpaste on the brush when brushing.
- Account for all of the sources of ingested fluoride before requesting fluoride supplements from your child’s physician or pediatric dentist.
- Avoid giving any fluoride-containing supplements to infants until they are at least 6 months old.
- Obtain fluoride level test results for your drinking water before giving fluoride supplements to your child (check with local water utilities).
What are mouth guards?
When a child begins to participate in recreational activities and organized sports, injuries can occur. A properly fitted mouth guard, or mouth protector, is an important piece of athletic gear that can help protect your child’s smile, and should be used during any activity that could result in a blow to the face or mouth.
Mouth guards help prevent broken teeth, and injuries to the lips, tongue, face or jaw. A properly fitted mouth guard will stay in place while your child is wearing it, making it easy for them to talk and breathe.
Ask your pediatric dentist about custom and store-bought mouth protectors.
What is xylitol?
Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol sweetener that helps prevent cavities. Unlike sugar, certain cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth cannot utilize xylitol to grow. With regular use, xylitol changes the quality of the bacteria in the mouth, and fewer decay-causing bacteria are able to survive on the teeth, which in turn makes it more difficult for plaque to form.
There are many products that contain xylitol, including certain gums, mints, toothpastes, rinses, topical syrups and tooth wipes. How much and how often xylitol is needed for it’s cavity-preventing properties to be effective will vary depending on the product used and the person using it. Also keep in mind that gum and/or mints may be a choking hazard to very young children, so ask your pediatric dentist to recommend the best products containing xylitol to suit your family’s needs.