Preventative Dental Care
The foundation of sound preventative dental care is brushing. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and a small pea sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, unless the child is under the age of 3. If a child is younger than age 3, parents should clean their child's teeth with water and a soft-bristled toothbrush. After age 3, parents should supervise brushing. Use no more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and make sure children do not swallow excess toothpaste.
Teach your child to move the brush in small circular motions to reach food particles that may be under the gum line. Have them hold the toothbrush at an angle and brush slowly and carefully, covering all areas between teeth and the surface of each tooth. It will take several minutes to thoroughly brush their teeth. Have them brush up on the lower teeth, down on the upper teeth and the outside, inside and chewing surfaces of all front and back teeth. Then have them brush the tongue and the roof of the mouth before rinsing.
In our busy lives, the most important brushing times are in the morning and at bedtime. However, brushing teeth four times daily helps to avoid the accumulation of food particles and plaque:
- In the morning after breakfast
- After lunch or right after school
- After dinner
- At bedtime
As soon as the bristles start to wear down or fray, or every 3 months, replace the toothbrush with a new one. Teach your child not to swallow any toothpaste, and to rinse their mouth thoroughly with water after they finish brushing. It is important they carefully floss and brush daily for optimal oral hygiene.
Tooth decay is a progressive disease resulting in the interaction of bacteria that naturally occur on the teeth and sugars in the everyday diet. Sugar causes a reaction in the bacteria, causing it to produce acids that break down the mineral in teeth, forming a cavity. Pediatric dentists remove the decay and fill the tooth using a variety of fillings, restoring the tooth to a healthy state. Nerve damage can result from severe decay and may require a crown (a crown is like a large filling that can cap a tooth, making it stronger or covering it). Avoiding unnecessary decay simply requires strict adherence to a dental hygiene regimen: brushing and flossing twice a day, regular dental checkups, diet control and fluoride treatment. Practicing good hygiene avoids unhealthy teeth and costly treatment.
For areas between the teeth that a toothbrush can't reach, dental floss is used to remove food particles and plaque. Dental floss is a thin thread of waxed nylon that is used to reach below the gum line and clean between teeth. It is very important to floss between your teeth every day.
Pull a small length of floss from the dispenser. Wrap the ends of the floss tightly around your middle fingers. Guide the floss between all teeth to the gum line, pulling out any food particles or plaque. Unwrap clean floss from around your fingers as you go, so that you have used the floss from beginning to end when you finish. Floss behind all of your back teeth. Another choice is using flossers with floss attached to a small plastic handle.
Floss at night to make sure your teeth are squeaky clean before you go to bed. When you first begin flossing, your gums may bleed a little. If the bleeding does not go away after the first few times, let a Great Beginnings staff member know at your next appointment.
The grooves and depressions that form the chewing surfaces of the back teeth are extremely difficult (if not impossible) to clean out bacteria and food. As the bacteria reacts with the food, acids form and break down the tooth enamel, causing cavities. Recent studies indicate that 88 percent of total cavities in American school children are caused this way.
Tooth sealants protect these susceptible areas by sealing the grooves and depressions, preventing bacteria and food particles from residing in these areas. Sealant material is a resin typically applied to the back teeth, molars and premolars and areas prone to cavities. It lasts for several years but needs to be checked during regular appointments.
Fluoride is a substance that helps teeth remineralize and resist decay. Regularly drinking water treated with fluoride and brushing and flossing regularly ensures significantly lower cavities. Pediatric dentists can evaluate the level of fluoride in a primary drinking water source and recommend fluoride supplements (usually in tablets or drops), if necessary.
Sucking is a natural reflex that relaxes and comforts babies and toddlers. Children usually cease thumb sucking when the permanent front teeth are ready to erupt. Typically, children stop between the ages of 2 and 4 years. Thumb sucking that persists beyond the eruption of primary teeth can cause improper growth of the mouth and misalignment of the teeth. If you notice prolonged and/or vigorous thumb sucking behavior in your child, talk to your kid's dentist.
Here are some ways to help your child outgrow thumb sucking:
- Don't scold a child when they exhibit thumb sucking behavior. Instead, praise them when they don't thumb suck
- Focus on eliminating the cause of anxiety — thumb sucking is a comfort device that helps children cope with stress or discomfort
- Praise them when they refrain from the habit during difficult periods
- Place a bandage on the thumb or a sock on their hand at night