“They’re just baby teeth.”
It’s a statement that Dr. Steven Rollins of Summit Dental Group in Waterford often hears from the parents of his youngest patients. But caring for a child’s baby teeth is key to preventing oral health issues, including childhood caries – also known as cavities – and gingivitis.
“If a child has cavities that go undetected and untreated, they may experience pain,” Rollins says. “This could result in them not eating, not speaking or could possibly even affect the permanent teeth.”
Thankfully, cavities and gingivitis are totally preventable – and that prevention begins at birth. Here, Dr. Rollins offers insight on how brushing, diet and dental visits can help prevent cavities.
Long before your child’s first tooth erupts, parents can work to set the foundation for a healthy mouth.
It’s easy to do, too.
“This involves wiping the baby’s gums twice a day with a clean, soft cloth or gauze in the morning after the first feeding and before bed after the last feeding,” Rollins says. “This wipes away any bacteria and leftover sugars that the bacteria use to make the acid that causes cavities.”
Where does all that bacteria come from? Bacteria can get in a child’s mouth when a parent or caregiver kisses him or her, samples some food from the child’s spoon or cleans a pacifier with their own mouth. That’s why proper hygiene is important for parents and caregivers, as well.
“Proper hygiene for caregivers and children will prevent bacteria from hanging around and causing issues. It’s far too easy to allow one’s own hygiene practices to fall short and focus all of the attention on children,” he says. “Taking care of yourself will help them out, too.”
As infants grow and teeth begin to erupt, it’s time to start brushing – for two minutes each day, if you’re able. Some children might not brush for that entire time and that’s OK, Rollins says.
Apply fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice, which is barely a smear, to your child’s toothbrush – until age 3 when you can use a pea-sized amount.
“They don’t know what a smear or the size of a pea is so parents and caregivers need to apply toothpaste or at the very least monitor how much is used and remind them not to swallow,” he adds.
It might take some trial and error when it comes to finding toothpaste your child likes, Rollins says. The same goes for the toothbrush. In fact, Rollins’ two sons, ages 4 and 6, prefer battery-operated toothbrushes.
Fruit juice and starchy snacks such as crackers and chips are just some cavity culprits for children, according to KidsHealthyTeeth.com.
“The more sugar they have, the more acid they are producing,” Rollins says – and that has a negative impact on a child’s teeth.
“Contact time is my biggest concern since the effects of eating or drinking a sugary or acidic drink will linger for roughly 20 to 30 minutes,” he says. “The pH of the mouth drops to a level where enamel is demineralizing and bacteria are having a feast, making more acid to affect the teeth,” he adds.
As infants, leaving a child in his or her crib with a bottle of milk or formula is also a no-no, because that milk or formula will have an extended period of contact with your child’s teeth, which is what you want to avoid. Likewise, “when children get older, leaving them with free reign of juice or a different sugary acidic drink in a sippy cup is the problem,” he adds.
If kids are going to drink juice, allow them to do so at mealtime and not throughout the day.
Part of establishing a healthy foundation for oral hygiene is regular visits to the dentist’s office. These trips should begin when a child cuts his or her first tooth, but should definitely happen by age 1, Rollins says.
These visits are important to maintaining a child’s oral health as they give the dentist an opportunity to look for any trouble spots that are developing – and address them early on.
Beginning at age 1, these younger patients should be seen by their dentist twice per year.
For more information on Summit Dental, visit summitdentalgroup.com.