Clean Teeth are Healthy Teeth
In order for your child’s teeth to be healthy it is important that you keep them clean.
It is important to follow the guidelines below to keep your baby’s gums and teeth healthy.
- Put only water in your baby’s naptime or bedtime bottle.
- Wipe your baby’s gums with a clean, damp cloth after each feeding.
- Start brushing your baby’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears.
- Small amounts of nonfluoride toothpaste should be used beginning at 12 months of age.
- Schedule your child’s first dentist visit at 12 to 18 months of age.
Once all the baby teeth have come in, you should floss your child’s teeth. Children can usually floss alone after age 8, although you may need to supervise them.
By 4 to 5 years of age, children are usually able to brush their teeth on their own. However, to ensure thorough cleaning, their tooth brushing should be supervised until age 7.
Fluoride toothpaste should not be used until the child is old enough to spit out the extra toothpaste and rinse with water after brushing. Children should use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste when brushing their teeth.
Thumb or Finger Sucking & Pacifier Use
Before the age of 3, it is unlikely that thumb or finger sucking or using a pacifier will cause any permanent harm to your baby’s teeth or smile. Significant dental problems are more likely to occur in children that use a pacifier (or suck their thumb or finger) frequently for long periods of time and continue the habit after 3 years of age. Thumb or finger sucking is the hardest habit to break—20 percent of children continue the habit after age 5.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Baby bottle tooth decay is tooth decay in infants and toddlers. Also called early childhood caries, baby bottle tooth decay often occurs when a baby's teeth are frequently exposed to sugary liquids for extended periods of time. Any sugary liquid can cause the condition, including milk, formula, juice, soda—even breast milk.
Placing a child in his or her crib for a nap or at bedtime with a bottle or sippy cup that contains a sugary liquid puts that child at high risk for developing early childhood caries. Breast-feeding at night can also cause the condition. If your baby has teeth and you have to breast-feed in the middle of the night, be sure to wipe the teeth with a gauze pad before laying your baby back down. Using a bottle to pacify your baby may also lead to baby bottle tooth decay.
It is also possible to spread bacteria that cause tooth decay from parent to child. For example, if you share a food or drink with your child or use your saliva to clean his or pacifier, you may be putting your child at risk for early childhood caries.
Baby bottle tooth decay is a devastating condition that can affect your child's ability to eat and speak. When it occurs, it tends to go from a little stain on a front tooth to extreme tooth decay in a short time—just a month or two. One way to decrease your child's risk is to make sure he or she transitions from a bottle to a cup by 1 year of age.
Protect Your Child’s Teeth
There are many ways that you can help to protect your child’s teeth.
- Children playing contact sports should wear a mouth guard. A mouth guard may be purchased at any sporting goods store.
- If your child has front teeth that protrude, you should discuss the problem with your dentist. The risk of broken teeth is far greater if your child has protruding front teeth.
- A child with a neuromuscular disorder or frequent seizures should wear a helmet and mouth guard to protect the head and face during falls.
Call Your Dentist
If a baby tooth is knocked out, there is no way to “save” the tooth. If the gum is bleeding, cover your finger with gauze and press down on the bleeding area. Call your dentist to determine if he or she feels it is necessary to fit your child with a “spacer.” A “spacer” takes the place of the baby tooth and holds the place for the permanent tooth until it comes in.
If a permanent tooth is knocked out rinse (but do not scrub) the tooth, holding it by its crown. Do not touch the roots. It is wise to plug the drain before you begin rinsing. Insert the tooth into the socket with gentle pressure. Replace the tooth quickly, within 20 minutes if possible. It is uncommon for the tooth to survive if replacement is delayed longer than two hours. Take your child to the dentist immediately so that the tooth can be immobilized. If you are unable to replace the tooth, take your child and the tooth to the dentist. Transport the tooth in milk.
- Baby bottle tooth decay is the most common cause of tooth decay in a child younger than 3 years old.
- The chewing surfaces of back teeth are the most likely to decay. Sixty-six percent of cavities occur in the back teeth.
- The ideal time for placement of braces is 8-14 years old because the head and mouth are still growing and teeth can be more easily straightened. Usually braces are worn for 18-30 months, and then a retainer is worn for a few months to two years.