Your child’s teeth are extremely important. You might not think that baby teeth, since they’re only temporary, are as critical as permanent teeth. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), if a child’s baby teeth are lost before they naturally fall out, the other teeth may move and make it difficult for adult teeth to grow in. Tooth decay can also lead to pain, costly treatment, and possibly even life-threatening infections. Therefore, it is essential to prevent tooth decay as soon as baby teeth appear. Here are five ways for parents to prevent tooth decay, beginning from baby’s first teeth and all the way through childhood.
1) Properly Care for Your Baby’s Teeth
Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, you should keep your baby’s mouth clean. From birth to 12 months, use a clean washcloth designed for babies to gently wipe their gums. Once the first teeth appear, use a soft, specially designed baby toothbrush and a very small smear of fluoride toothpaste to gently brush their teeth. From 1 to 3 years, you should brush your child’s teeth twice a day. Stick to a small amount of toothpaste until their third birthday. After breakfast and before bedtime are the best times for tooth brushing.
2) Don’t Let a Child Go to Bed with Food or a Bottle
Although it may seem like a good idea, letting a child have food or a bottle before bedtime may lead to tooth decay, as it exposes their teeth to sugars for a long period of time without proper cleaning. It is especially bad to let a child drink sugary juice at any time other than mealtime, since the sugars can stay on the teeth and cause problems. In fact, the AAP recommends not giving juice at all to babies that are younger than 6 months, and diluting juice with water from 6 months to a year. If the child needs a bottle or sippy cup for a long period of time, it is best to fill it with water.
3) Don’t Share Utensils and Avoid Transferring Saliva
You might not think twice about cleaning off your baby’s pacifier by sticking it in your mouth, but the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) say this is a big no-no. Streptococcus mutans bacteria can spread from an adult’s mouth to a baby’s, even just by using the same utensils without thorough cleaning. This type of bacteria can cause cavities and tooth decay. For this reason, it is also very important for parents to care for their own teeth — for their sake and their child’s!
4) Limit Sugary Foods; Brush After Eating
In general, for good oral health, you should limit drinks and foods that contain sugar. This is a good practice for adults as well, but especially for babies and children. Diet is a key component in preventing tooth decay. It isn’t just candy that contains sugar. Products like gummy vitamins also have a lot of sugar, as do fruit juices. Drinking Gatorade, soda, and even fruit juice all day long can create a buildup of sugar and acid in a child’s mouth, so it’s best to limit these types of foods to regular meals only, following them with a good brushing.
For older children, foods like carrots, celery, and apples are healthy snacks in between meals, as the crunching action while they’re being eaten helps to scrub away tooth plaque.
5) Visit the Dentist Before Their First Birthday
Both children and adults visit their dentist every 6 months for a checkup and cleaning to help prevent tooth decay. It is widely recommended (by the AAP, AAPD and the American Dental Association) that a child should have their first visit to the dentist by their first birthday. Beginning that important relationship early is the key to lifelong healthy habits and the prevention of tooth decay.
While you’re busy taking care of your children’s chompers, don’t forget to take care of your own teeth, since children learn best by example!