Caring for Your Child’s Teeth

Cavities are a serious infection that can affect a child’s general health, growth and development.

Cavities are a bacterial INFECTION. Babies are not born with cavity-causing germs. They get the bacteria from their parents and caregivers through exposure to saliva. That makes it very important for parents and others not to share food or eating utensils to reduce the possible transfer of cavity-causing germs to young children. It’s also important for parents to brush and floss their teeth daily and get any cavities they have treated to reduce the amount of bacteria in their mouths.

Primary, or baby teeth, are important for talking, eating and self-esteem. Cavities in these teeth:

  • Are an infection.
  • Can cause pain if left untreated.
  • Can cause eating problems and weight loss if chewing becomes painful.
  • Can cause problems with speech development.
  • Can cause crooked permanent teeth if primary teeth are lost too soon.
  • Can affect the way a child looks and feels about herself.
  • Can become very costly to repair.
  • Can cause missed school days due to pain and infection and affect a child’s ability to learn.
  • Can cause difficulty sleeping due to pain.

Check teeth for cavities.

Once a month, lift the child’s lip and look for chalky white or brown spots. Especially check the upper front teeth where the gums and teeth meet. White spots are weak areas where cavities can start. Brown spots may indicate decay. If you see anything unusual, contact your dentist.

The well-dental visit.

The American Academy of Pediatricians and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists recommend that your child have his first dental check-up by the first birthday. The visit is a way to prevent dental problems and catch any problems early. Your dentist will discuss:

  • Correct ways to brush and floss
  • Fluoride
  • Healthy feeding

Continue to schedule regular dental check-ups for your child.

Preventing cavities in infants and toddlers:

  • Don’t put baby to bed with a bottle. Anything but water can promote cavities. Instead, hold your baby while feeding, which promotes closeness.
  • Put only formula, breast milk or milk in your baby’s bottle. Juices and other sugary drinks can promote tooth decay. Only water should be given between meals.
  • Start your child on an open cup at 6 months. Practice with water. Wean her from the bottle around 1 year.
  • Don’t dip a pacifier in honey or anything sweet; it promotes cavities.
  • Never clean a pacifier with your saliva because it can transmit cavity-causing bacteria.
  • Before teeth come in, clean gums with a clean cloth once a day to get baby used to mouth cleaning.
  • Gently brush your baby’s teeth twice a day as soon as they come in to remove bacteria and food. The bedtime brushing is the most important. Use a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste. Remove the excess with a washcloth.
  • Once two teeth touch each other, start flossing between those teeth once a day.
  • Don’t give your child sugary foods or drinks, crackers or anything that sticks to the teeth for snacks. These foods feed the cavity-causing bacteria.
  • For snacks, offer fresh cut-up fruits, vegetables and cheese.
  • Ask your pediatrician/dentist about fluoride tablets or drops if you don’t have fluoridated water. Fluoridated water is the best way to cut down on cavities.
  • Prevent tooth injury by using corner guards on furniture and gates and keep electrical cords out of reach.

Preventing cavities in preschoolers:

  • Continue brushing your child’s’ teeth morning and bedtime and flossing once a day until she can tie her own shoes, about age 7 or 8. For safety, don’t let children walk around with a toothbrush. Use a small pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste. Have them spit out or wipe out excess toothpaste.
  • Continue regular dental check-ups.
  • Continue to use fluoride tablets as prescribed by your doctor or dentist.
  • Continue healthy snacking. Avoid carbonated beverages. Even sugar-free sodas can weaken the tooth.
  • Discontinue pacifier use and discourage thumb or finger sucking around age 3 or 4.
  • Don’t use candy or other food treats as a reward. Instead use hugs, stickers, small toys or reading time.

Preventing cavities in school-age children:

  • Continue regular dental check-ups.
  • Ask your dentist about sealants, which are a plastic coating applied to permanent molars to prevent cavities. Your child should avoid
    chewing on ice, which can break sealants.
  • Monitor your child’s brushing morning and bedtime and flossing once a day.
  • Continue to use fluoride toothpaste and fluoride tablets as prescribed by your doctor or dentist.
  • Offer healthy snacks. Avoid candy, fruit roll ups, dried fruits, crackers and other foods that stick in the teeth; they promote tooth decay. Also avoid sour candy and powders and lemons, which can break down the tooth’s enamel.
  • For cavity-prone children, chewing sugarless gum sweetened with xylitol three to four times a day helps prevent cavities.