Dentistry has come a long way since the Middle Ages, when people had their teeth yanked out at the barbershop. In fact, dental care has greatly expanded in the last 20 years. But even now, with the latest dental advancements, you still have to play an active role in your dental care — and your child’s.
“Dental hygiene is a really timely topic because dental infections are the most common infections in children,” says Sarah Beckmann, M.D., a pediatrician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Faribault.
Dental caries — otherwise known as tooth decay or cavities — affect many children and adults, although Dr. Beckmann says it is largely preventable through good dental health habits and a number of measures that have proven effective.
“Although access to dental health care can be a challenge, we would like every child to have a dental home by age 1,” says Dr. Beckmann. She says having a dental home can mean a lot of things. Taking your child to a pediatric dentist is ideal, but other options include Women, Infants and Children (WIC) clinics, and even your doctor’s office.
Dr. Beckmann says it is most beneficial for dental health if babies stop consuming breast milk or formula during the night by 6 months of age, and never have bottles in their beds so they don’t develop the habit. “Breast milk contains lactose, which is a milk sugar,” she says. “Late night nursers have an increased risk of tooth decay and, in general, the more carbohydrates a child consumes, the greater the risk for cavities.”
There are several healthy habits that you can establish with your child when he or she is young. Dr. Beckmann says children by the age of 6 months should have fluoride in their water, and children of brushing age should use soft brushes and fluoridated toothpaste. If you don’t have access to fluoridated water, Dr. Beckmann says your health care provider can recommend a source of fluoride, including nursery water or fluoride drops/tablets.
“Children need supervision with brushing at least halfway through grade school,” Dr. Beckmann says. “Brushing two times a day is usually enough, but parents should always supervise. Children should begin flossing as soon as your dentist recommends it. You can stop supervision when you think your child is doing as good of a job as you would.”
Dr. Beckmann says that any food or drinks with sugar in them increase your child’s risk for cavities. “Try to teach your children to enjoy the natural sweetness of fruit — that’s all they need for sweets,” she says. “Avoid soda pop, which not only increases the risk of obesity, but the combination of sugar and acid breaks down teeth. The same goes for juice. Juice is just a flat form of soda pop.”
See the graphic below (or better yet, print or share!) for more information on keeping children's teeth healthy.