Primary teeth (baby teeth) are just as important to the overall health and well-being of your child as permanent teeth. A healthy mouth - at all ages - is essential for good nutrition, self-esteem, speech development, and maintaining proper space for permanent teeth. In addition, recent research has found a significant correlation between good oral health and learning.
One of the most common, and entirely preventable, oral health issue is dental caries (tooth decay), which is caused by an infection of the tooth. Early child caries (ECC) can have devastating consequences for a child's oral and overall health and well being. (Learn more about preventing ECC.)
There are three primary factors involved in the prevention of tooth decay: (1) oral hygiene (home and professional care), (2) diet and nutrition, and (3) fluoride.
For infants, use a warm, damp washcloth to wipe food debris (dental plaque) from the teeth and gums. Children should not fall asleep with a bottle containing anything other than water. On demand breast-feeding prior to naps or at bedtime should be avoided after the first baby tooth is present. Encourage your child to drink from a cup as he or she approaches 12 months of age.
Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and a small strip of fluoride toothpaste. When you brush your teeth, move the brush in small, circular motions to reach food particles that may be under your gum line. Hold the toothbrush at an angle and brush slowly and carefully, covering all areas between teeth and the surface of each tooth. It will take several minutes to thoroughly brush all teeth. Brush up on the lower teeth, down on the upper teeth as well as the outside, inside, and chewing surface of all front and back teeth. Brush the tongue and roof of the mouth.
We recommend that children, preteens, and teens brush four times daily to avoid the accumulation of food particles and plaque:
- In the morning after breakfast
- After lunch or right after school
- After dinner
- At bedtime
Don't forget to replace toothbrushes every three months. Do not swallow toothpaste, and rinse thoroughly with water after brushing.
Dental floss should be used to remove food particles and plaque in between teeth where a toothbrush can't reach. To floss properly, pull a small length of floss from the dispenser. Wrap the ends of the floss tightly around your middle fingers. Guide the floss between all teeth to the gum line, pulling out any food particles or plaque. Unwrap clean floss from around your fingers as you go, so that you have used the floss from beginning to end when you finish. Floss behind all of your back teeth.
Floss at night to make sure your teeth are squeaky clean before you go to bed. When you first begin flossing, your gums may bleed a little. If the bleeding does not go away after the first few times, let us know at your next appointment.
Diet and nutrition
A healthy, balanced diet that naturally provides the nutrients your child requires for growth and development is recommended. Contrary to popular belief, nearly all foods can cause tooth decay, not just high sugar content foods like cookies and candy.
The most current diet recommendations for children are for three well balanced meals per day and no more than two snacks per day. Experts agree that frequency of eating is at least as important as what children eat in causing tooth decay.