Caring for teeth is a lifelong task. As soon as the first tooth arrives, a mouth needs to be properly cared for to keep teeth and gums in the best possible shape. Unfortunately, many children experience severe tooth decay early in life, and their overall dental health can suffer as a result.
Severe tooth decay in primary teeth is a concern because the primary teeth shape how your child speaks, chews, and bites. They pave the way for permanent teeth, so premature loss can mean crooked teeth that require braces.
As a parent, you can take steps to prevent childhood tooth decay. Here are the common causes of this malady and what you can do to prevent them.
Incomplete or Late Dental Hygiene
One major reason that early tooth decay occurs is because dental hygiene is not properly addressed. Parents should begin brushing children's teeth as soon as the first tooth emerges, using a soft-bristled brush. Training toothpaste that is fluoride-free is safest for babies and children under two years of age.
Brushing should be a daily habit for children of all ages. Parents should brush a child's teeth for them, as young children do not have the dexterity and fine motor skills to properly brush their own teeth. After you brush your child's teeth, allow them to practice brushing to eventually get the motions down for later independence.
Brush each day in the morning and evening. If possible, also brush your child's teeth after they eat desserts, candies, or treats like fruit snacks.
Milk, Juice, or Soda in Bottles or Sippy Cups
Many children become attached to drinking beverages from bottles and lidded cups. These types of containers are great for preventing messes and for serving drinks in the car, but they can be dangerous for teeth. Make sure you:
- Give water for between-meal liquids for all children who have been weaned from breastmilk or formula. Consistent exposure to juice and milk between meals bathes the teeth in sugar and acids which can accelerate decay. Encourage kids to drink liquids all at once, rather than slowly over a long period of time.
- Never let your child fall asleep with a bottle that is full of juice or milk. Doing so means that bacteria in your child's mouth can feed on the residue left behind all night without being brushed away.
- Give water as a before-bed liquid after teeth have been brushed. Even if you don't give your child milk or juice in bed, giving them water can help to keep teeth clean.
If you breastfeed your baby, try to brush your infant's teeth after feeding if they are going down for a long sleep. This can also help prevent tooth decay.
Sweets and Snacks
Like liquids, sweets and snacks can also accelerate decay. Try to limit sugar intake during snack times. Children often need snacks, but scheduling snack time each day prevents grazing. Grazing on simple carbohydrates like crackers, toast, and even fruit can be a hard on a child's teeth.
Instead, offer nuts, vegetables, cheese, and yogurt at snack times, and don't allow any grazing in between. Have your children wash down snacks with a glass of water to help wash away lingering residue.
No Dental Exams and Cleanings
Finally, many parents postpone a child's dental appointments, thinking they are too young to be seen. However, your child should see the dentist for the first time at about a year old and will require regular exams after that. Catching cavities early is helpful because primary teeth are so small and much softer than permanent teeth, so once decay takes hold, it can easily overtake the entire tooth.
For more information about childhood tooth care, contact us at the Grant/Moana Dental Offices.