Mouth Mysteries: Tips for Childhood Dental Care

There is nothing sweeter than seeing a sweet smile across your child’s face. The American Dental Association has deemed February “National Children’s Dental Health Month”. We must take the proper precautions to take care of that precious smile. Dental health starts from the very beginning, even before there are any teeth. We’ve compiled a list of must-knows to help solve some of those mouth mysteries and take proper care of those pearly whites.


Not Just Baby Teeth

Baby teeth tend to show up around 6 months to a year, and most children have all 20 baby teeth by the age of 3. Many parents fall under the assumption that baby teeth are not important because they fall out. This is not the case. McKenzie Woodard, DDS, is a mother of two and well versed in the misconceptions of children and proper dental care. She comments, “Some people are quick to feel like ‘no big deal, they are just baby teeth’. However, we don’t lose our last baby teeth until we’re 12 or even older in some kids. On top of this, permanent molars start coming in by the time we’re 6. So, we have to be diligent with home care at a young age.”

Baby teeth serve a significant purpose; they help them chew, speak, and act as a placeholder for permanent teeth. If a baby tooth is lost too early, permanent teeth can drift from their appropriate position, thus jeopardizing teeth coming in the wrong position.


Breastfeeding

We’ve all heard the benefits of breastfeeding, but did you also know that breastfeeding can help protect a child’s teeth? A 2015 study conducted by Pediatrics concluded that babies that are exclusively breastfed for 6 months are less likely to develop crooked teeth, open bites, cross bites, and overbites.

The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for 2 years. Prolonged bottle feeding can have adverse affects on your child’s teeth, however this is not the case with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is considered safe for your child’s smile, but that doesn’t mean you can completely forgo dental health care.


Bottle Feeding

“Baby bottle tooth decay” as termed by the ADA generally occurs in the baby’s front two teeth when exposed to excessive prolonged exposure to sugary drinks. “This can be a huge issue; we think of milk as “healthy”, but there are still sugars and carbohydrates in it, and so it’s critical that kids not go to sleep with bottles of milk (or juice)”, comments Dr. Woodard, “In severe cases it can cause major issues with cavities in very young kids.”


Brush, Brush, Brush

Babies can experience tooth decay as soon as they appear. Take proper precautions immediately. “For proper teeth care there is no time like the present. Start wiping your baby’s gums with a clean, moist gauze pad a few days after birth,” she recommends, “When teeth start to appear, use a rice size amount of fluoride-free toothpaste and gently brush teeth at least two times a day. When the child is able to spit, start using a pea sized amount of children’s toothpaste. Supervise and help children brush until the age of 7.”


First Visit to the Dentist

Many parents wonder when to take their child to the dentist. The ADA recommends taking them shortly after their first tooth comes in, and no later than one year of age. This may seem early but think of this visit as a “well-check”. The dentist will examine the health and growth of the teeth and gums. This will also help your child cope with a perceived “fear of the dentist”. The earlier a child is exposed, the more comfortable they will become with the dentist. “For the first years for most children the visits will be quick, easy, and mostly about introducing kids to the office, making sure they know it’s not a scary place, and sending them home with toys and cute toothbrushes”, comments Dr. Woodard.


Keep a timer in the bathroom because two minutes seems like forever and most kids do not brush as long as they should.


Good Bacteria

Certain medications, high fevers, fluorosis, or other medical conditions may alter the tooth structure. “Sugar is the main driving force, and some kids and adults are more susceptible than others because of their bacterial make-up.” Some people have a higher source of “good” bacteria or those that fight off cavities better than others.

Of course cavities happen to good people; they should never be treated as something shameful. “But remember it is about bacteria, and if your child gets cavities at a young age they may have a higher susceptibility, meaning that those parents would have to be extra diligent about limiting sugar intake, monitoring diet, performing excellent home care, and ensuring timely dental visits to catch things early.”


Grazing

Most kids like to snack all day long; meals seem to be too much of a commitment for the fickle toddler. However, this can be bad news for teeth. “Grazing is a hard thing because the more we expose our mouth to a sugary substance it keeps the pH of our mouth in a range that bacteria can break down our teeth readily.”


Only Water

Dr. Woodard also advocates limiting any other drink than water. “If a child is going to be offered juice (which I would encourage parents limiting, and I would advise against soda) it’s better to sit down, drink the juice box, and be done with it; it’s more harmful to sip on that same juice box in a sippy cup for an hour or two.”


Mother to Baby

Tooth decay is a disease that can be passed from mother to child. If the mother has tooth decay, then uses her mouth to clean a spoon or a pacifier by sucking on it, she will then contaminate her child.

Links have also been found to Periodontal (Gum) Disease and preterm low birth weight babies. Moms have to take care of yourselves also. Lead by example, let your kids follow in your steps of excellent brushing, flossing, and healthy habits.


One final thought on talking to your kids:

Dr. Woodard said she stole these from her mentor, Dr. Eric Layton, but she found it one of the best ways to explain cleaning teeth to children. “Have they ever seen a dinner plate left in the sink and watched their parents try to clean it the next day? It is so much harder! However, if you rinse it right after you eat, the food comes right off. It’s the exact same when we don’t brush our teeth. If we brush our teeth for 2 minutes, twice a day we don’t give the plaque enough time to stick to them. The longer we leave build up on our teeth, the harder it becomes to brush off.”

Looking for more information about your child’s first trip to the dentist? Check out our article: Baby’s Oral Health: From the First Tooth to the First Trip to the Dentist.

Photo Credit: Kristen D, Ashley W

Sources: Dr. McKenzie WoodardAmerican Dental Association

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Ashley Wells

Ashley lives in North Carolina, with her husband, 4 year old little girl and infant son. She has dreamed of being a SAHM since she was a little girl and now enjoys living out this dream by making everyday adventures with her two tiny sidekicks. She loves yoga, fitness, dark chocolate, and wine. She's an organizer of playdates, preschool happenings, and girls night outs. She's an encourager of making messes, finding passions, and dreaming the impossible.

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