Dental Health Guide for Kids
Children’s dental health is often overlooked as a concern by parents. In some cases, they mistakenly believe that because the first set of teeth will be replaced with new teeth, there is no reason to pay much attention. However, like many things children learn, proper children’s dental health starts with habits developed early. And these habits reap rewards. Estimates are that 51 million school hours are lost each year because of dental-related illness, most of which could be prevented with proper dental care.
Dental Health for Infants
Children’s dental health actually starts before the baby is born. Teeth are already starting to develop by the sixth week of the pregnancy. Mothers need proper nutrition (especially folic acid) for their developing baby to prevent cleft palate or other malformations of the mouth. Along with this, a checkup is warranted so that dental procedures can be timed to the pregnancy.
Some types of work may have to be delayed until after the delivery, while others will help keep the mother healthy and prevent dental problems (primarily infections) from endangering overall health. Your dentist will consult with your obstetrician to resolve any concerns.
The first teeth (called deciduous teeth) emerge between six and 12 months after birth. The American Dental Association recommends a wellness checkup at the dentist for the infant within the first six months and no later than the first year. Your dentist will examine any teeth showing and the overall structure of your baby’s mouth, gums and jaw.
During this time, and as more teeth emerge, you can brush your child’s teeth with a soft-bristled brush twice a day, using a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Ask your dentist if fluoride toothpaste is needed for your child’s current age. At 2 years of age, most children are using fluoride-containing toothpaste.
After meals, a quick swipe with a soft cloth along the gum line will help prevent food from building up on new teeth. Bottles should be finished before the child goes to bed and pacifiers should be clean and not “spiked” with honey, syrup or other sweet substances. Human breast milk will not cause tooth decay, but formulas and baby food will. So even before teeth erupt, cleaning your infant’s gums is important, either by rinsing or wiping.
Your dentist will be able to recommend a fluoride supplement if you live in an area where fluoride is not present in the water supply or if your infant has a special diet that limits their intact of the mineral. Fluoride is especially important during the first years of life as teeth are actively growing. Children younger than 6 should be encouraged to spit out fluoride toothpaste after brushing. If they consistently swallow too much, it can cause white spots on teeth.
Dental Health for Young Children
- Proper nutrition is essential, both for tooth development and overall health.
- Establishing good oral hygiene habits are important for children’s dental health, and proper training will be a lifelong gift you give your child.
- Teach and encourage your child to brush their teeth at least twice daily.
- Flossing can be started at 3 to 4 years of age.
- Children should be flossing on their own at 8 to 10 years old.
- Sugar-containing treats should be offered at or around mealtimes, never as snack items or before bedtime.
Dental Sealants for Kids
Because cavities are a primary obstacle in children’s dental health, dental sealants to protect teeth are a proven option. Sealants work by filling imperfections in a tooth, even before a cavity has a chance to start. Because permanent molars start to emerge around age 6, and secondary molars come in around 12 years. These teeth will be permanent and carried throughout life. Sealants used now can extend the life of molars by preventing cavities from forming.
Dental sealants are a coating that is safe for the mouth and fills small (sometimes too small to see) areas where bacteria would otherwise reside. The chewing surfaces of back teeth (which have the most wear) are the best candidates. A coating is painted on the surface and can last for five years or more.
Dental sealants are not replacements for good oral hygiene or fluoride. Each of these strategies helps prevent tooth decay by different mechanisms. Full benefits can only be had with a complete program as recommended by your child’s dentist.