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The Informed Parent

Pediatric Dental Care: A Healthy Smile Starts Before The First Tooth

by Lori A. Livingston, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Oct. 15, 2008

All parents know that children need to brush their teeth and go to the dentist. But there are often many questions surrounding this everyday habit. When do you start brushing the teeth? At what age does a child see the dentist? What about toothpaste? Why does my child have cavities even though we brush every day?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a few simple guidelines:

Birth to 12 months

  • Good dental habits should begin before the first tooth appears. After feedings, gently brush your baby’s gums and teeth using water on a baby toothbrush or a washcloth.
  • Tooth decay can develop as soon as the first tooth appears.
  • Ask your pediatrician about fluoride to prevent cavities. Many cities have adequate fluoride in tap water, which is often better to use than bottled water.
    Do not use fluoride toothpaste.
  • Schedule your well-baby visits, making sure that the pediatrician checks your baby’s mouth.

12 to 24 months

  • Brush your child’s teeth in the morning and before bed.
  • Use water or baby toothpaste that is fluoride free on a baby toothbrush.
  • Limit juice to one small cup each day.

24 months and older

  • Help your child brush his teeth two times a day with a child size toothbrush.
  • Encourage your child to brush his teeth on his own. But you should always brush them again to be sure they are clean. Children often need help brushing their teeth until seven or eight years old.
  • Make brushing a game if your child is resistant: the toothbrush can look upstairs and downstairs in the mouth for missing treasure in the teeth.
  • Start to use fluoride toothpaste to prevent cavities. Teach your child not to swallow it since this could cause white or brown spots on your child’s teeth. Use plain water alone if necessary
  • Begin flossing as soon as two teeth touch each other
  • Consider scheduling a dental checkup at least once a year starting at two or three years old.

What causes tooth decay?

  • Our teeth are protected by an outer coating called enamel. Cavities are holes in the enamel.
  • This decay happens when germs in the mouth mix with sugar in food and drinks.
  • Parents can pass germs that cause cavities and gum disease to their children if they share food and drinks.

How can we prevent tooth decay and cavities?

  • Do not share food or drinks with your children. Do not lick your child’s spoon, fork or pacifier.
  • If you put your child to bed with a bottle, fill it only with water.
  • When it is not mealtime, only give your child water.
  • Offer healthy snacks like fruit and vegetable.
  • Avoid sweet or sticky snacks like candy, cookies, or fruit roll-ups. There is sugar in snacks like crackers and chips, too.
  • If your child drinks milk at bedtime, clean his teeth afterward.
  • Don’t let your child sip drinks that have sugar like juices, sports drinks, flavored drinks, lemonade, soda or flavored teas.

If you have more questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

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