Five Strategies for Pediatric Oral Health

Tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease - 5 times more common than asthma and 20 times more common than diabetes. Tooth pain is also a top reason for school absences and visits to the emergency room. And most importantly, an untreated dental abscess in a child even has the potential to be fatal. For the most part, these cavities are preventable with simple day to day changes in lifestyle and diet! Here are five tips for better dental health for your kids.

Start early.
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the first visit to the dentist should be by the first birthday or following the eruption of the first tooth (whatever happens first).

Why so early? Aside from the essential information your dentist will impart about your child’s teeth and gums, you want to familiarize your child with the dentist the same way you do with the pediatrician. Also, in the event of an emergency, you definitely want to have a doctor who both you and your child trust.

At home, you should establish a strong oral hygiene routine that includes brushing two to three times per day and flossing at night once the first tooth shows up. Even before the first tooth, wipe your baby’s gums following breastfeeding or formula (I recommend Dr. Brown’s Tooth and Gum Wipes).

Avoid sports drinks and juices.
Try to make only water and milk available to your child on a daily basis. Unless you have an older child who engages in prolonged exercise, sports drinks are inappropriate as they contain sugar and carbohydrates that cause cavities and may upset stomachs.

Fruit juices, on the other hand, are basically sugar water and don’t even compare on a nutritional level to whole fruits, which are a great source of hydration. If your child is to have some juice, limit to meal times in a cup (not in a bottle or sippy cup).

No gummies.
Not even gummy vitamins! Gummies are a candy and should not be a daily snack. Gummy vitamins are indicated only as recommended by a pediatrician if your child is not able to tolerate hard chewable or liquid vitamins and requires the supplement. If you do opt for gummies, take them prior to a thorough brushing and flossing routine.

Yes to fluoride.
There’s a reason that fluoridated water is one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. Fluoride prevents cavities and helps to reverse cavities that are just beginning to form.

Fluoride toothpaste is safe to start at the age of two with a grain of rice size two to three times per day if your child does not spit. If your child does spit, a pea size amount is appropriate even before the age of two. If your child is under two and does not spit, introduce a fluoride-free toothpaste following the eruption of the first tooth.

I recommend Tom’s for Maine Toddler Training Toothpaste (fluoride-free) and the Tom’s of Maine Children’s Toothpaste (with fluoride).

Keep bottles out of the bed.
Infants and toddlers should never fall asleep with a bottle or sippy cup. The habit has a direct correlation with severe early childhood caries. The continuous sucking on the bottle or sippy cup also contributes to an open bite, similar to a thumb sucking or pacifier habit. An anterior open bite is where the front teeth do not overlap and instead there is space (the space that a bottle, thumb, or pacifier would occupy) that may result in feeding and speech difficulties. Permanent teeth also tend to follow the path of the baby teeth so if the baby teeth present in that orientation, it’s possible that the permanent teeth will require orthodontics to correct.

As a mother myself, I know you have to do what you have to do. So I just ask that you do your best to follow these guidelines because your child will definitely benefit from them both in the short and long term.

This post was written by Janice de Vito Munir, a pediatrics dentist in the DC area.

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