Help your children to have healthy teeth
2/15/2021 by Valeria Cristiani, M.D.
Healthy teeth support your children's overall health. As a parent, you can prevent dental caries, also known as tooth decay, in your infants or children by brushing their teeth, starting at the first tooth and following the recommendations below.
Dental caries are the most common chronic infection disease in children. And they are 100% preventable. Early childhood caries are an aggressive form of dental caries in children 0 to 5. Dental caries affect 1 out of 5 children by age 5, and twice as many children from low-income families or minorities. In Minnesota 50% of third graders have at least one dental caries.
Why is oral health prevention important?
Infants and children with dental caries can experience problems with pain and difficulty eating that leads to poor growth and severe, complicated infections. Children also can suffer from difficulty sleeping and poor self-esteem. More frequent school absences, or work absences for parents, and poor learning are consequences of untreated dental caries. Also, extensive and expensive preventable dental treatment if often needed to be performed under general anesthesia.
What can parents do to promote good oral health in their children?
To promote good oral health in their children, parents can:
- Brush their teeth twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste. Use a smear, like a grain of rice, in infants and children until their third birthday. Then after 3, use a pea-size amount.
- Keep a healthy diet with lots of fruits and veggies, and lots of water and milk.
- For infants, do not provide sippy cups with juice and do not feed in the middle of the night after 6 months.
- See a dentist by their first birthday or appearance of their first tooth.
- Have your health care provider or dentist apply fluoride varnish every three to six months to prevent caries.
Regular tooth brushing, especially before bedtime, is important to remove plaque and food debris, and for distributing fluoridated toothpaste. You should brush your children's teeth until they are at least 8 and supervise them for a while when they gain independence to brush on their own. It is best if you stand or sit behind your children when brushing their teeth. Your children should spit but not rinse after brushing to increase topical fluoride exposure.
It is important to find a dentist by the time your children's first tooth arrives or your children's first birthday. Your children's health care provider can help you find a dental home if needed and apply topical fluoride varnish after the first tooth and every three to six months until a dental home is established. Topical fluoride is the most efficient way to protect your children's teeth by making them healthier and stronger to prevent caries.
Remember, you can prevent caries and promote your children's overall health with healthy teeth. For more information, talk to your child's primary care provider or dentist.
Valeria Cristiani, M.D., is a pediatrician in Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine and a member of Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson. She co-chairs the Olmsted County Children's Oral Health Task Force and also is a member of the Minnesota Oral Health Coalition, a nonprofit group that supports oral health around the state.