Oral Health Tips for Children

Dr. Alan Friedman, Director, Dental Department at the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center is a contributing columnist in The Wave Newspaper.

Did you ever wonder why taking care of your child’s baby teeth is so important? Aren’t they all just going to fall out and be replaced by adult teeth? So, why bother at all?

The fact is that baby teeth have many important roles in the mouth. They are vital in your child’s ability to eat, speak and smile properly. Baby teeth help keep the space in the jaw for adult teeth so if your child loses a baby tooth too early, you should talk to your child’s dentist about maintaining space in the mouth to allow for the adult tooth to come in normally. These are some of the things that you can do to keep your child’s mouth healthy:

  • Start proper oral hygiene habits as soon as possible. Gently clean your infant’s gums and any erupting first teeth after each feeding with a moist gauze pad or damp wash cloth. For children younger than age 3, use a thin smear of toothpaste and for children 3 years or older, use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Remember to brush twice a day (morning and night) with fluoride toothpaste to prevent cavities.
  • Watch your child’s diet. What your child eats or drinks can hurt their baby teeth. Some drinks like fruit juice and soda can have high amounts of sugar and acid. Limit sugary treats like cookies and candies. If your child ingests excessive amounts of sugar, it will take the saliva a minimum of 30 minutes to neutralize the acidity that is created by decay producing bacteria. A sugary snack several times a day can mean that your child’s mouth is always acidic, increasing the chances for tooth decay. Substitute fresh fruit and vegetables and other tooth-friendly foods such as milk and cheese, lean meat and nuts which are better for teeth than cookies, candy and chips.
  • Drink plenty of water. The water in New York City is fluoridated and so the fluoride will strengthen the enamel and prevent cavities. Drinking water will keep your child hydrated and will also reduce the acidity of the mouth during the course of the day when they cannot brush their teeth.
  • Prevent baby bottle tooth decay. Don’t let your child go to sleep with a pacifier or baby bottle filled with anything but water. Overnight, when the teeth are exposed to sugary fluids (including breast milk and baby formula) there can be a dramatic increase in tooth decay. It is a common problem that can easily be eliminated.
  • Make a Dental Appointment. Your child’s first dental visit should be around the time of his or her first birthday and then regularly thereafter. Your dentist will teach you how to prevent dental disease, check for cavities in the baby teeth and follow the eruption and position of your child’s teeth. Be sure to ask your dentist about dental sealants and fluoride applications to protect your child’s teeth. Your dentist, pediatrician or family doctor can apply fluoride varnish as soon as the first tooth appears. Fluoride will strengthen and protect the enamel from decay. A sealant is a coating that is placed into the grooves and pits of your child’s molars (back teeth). Since most cavities in children form on these biting surfaces of the teeth, sealants can prevent food from getting stuck in these tiny grooves and pits and reduce cavity formation. Sealant placement is a noninvasive, painless procedure that requires no drilling or anesthesia.

Oral health tips are easy to come by; putting them into practice is much more difficult. It is up to the parents to monitor their children’s daily routines so that we can help protect our children from tooth decay and other oral health problems.

A healthy smile is contagious, so please spread it around!

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