Preventing Childhood Tooth Decay
Why is preventing tooth decay important?
Teeth give your face its shape, they help you speak clearly, and they help you chew and digest food. A healthy smile also improves your appearance.
The average child has at least one cavity in his/her permanent teeth by age nine, three cavities by age 12, and eight cavities by age 17. Childhood tooth decay can be prevented, especially if you start early.
What can I do to prevent childhood tooth decay?
- Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and reduces cavities by about 70 percent. Children need fluoride when they are as young as 2 weeks old.
- The city's water supply is an important source of fluoride. If you live in an area with no or low fluoride in the water, if you have well water, or if your baby is breast feeding or using formula with bottled water, talk to your doctor about getting a prescription for fluoride drops or tablets.
- Use fluoride toothpaste. Be sure to watch how much toothpaste your child puts on his or her toothbrush. Children tend to use a lot of toothpaste and then swallow it. Too much fluoride can create spots on the teeth. Children only need to use a drop of toothpaste, about the size of a pea.
Brushing and flossing
- Toothbrushing removes cavity-causing plaque and food particles from the surface of the teeth. Children should start having their teeth brushed before the age of one.
- Children age six and younger may not have the coordination or strength to properly brush their own teeth. You may need to help them. To increase a child's interest in this process, let him or her help you brush your teeth.
- Children should brush at least twice a day. Encourage them to brush after meals, especially the last snack/meal of the day.
- Dental floss can remove plaque and food particles from between the teeth, where a toothbrush can't reach. Ask your dentist when your child should start flossing.
- Sugars (especially sticky sweets like raisins and caramels) and starches can cause cavities. Serve foods high in sugars and carbohydrates as part of a meal, rather than as a snack. More saliva is produced during a meal. This rinses the mouth.
- If you have a baby, do not put him/her to bed with a bottle of milk or juice. During sleep, the flow of saliva decreases, which allows the sweet liquids to pool around the teeth for long periods of time. This causes tooth decay.
- Regular dental check-ups are extremely important. Talk to your doctor and dentist for the exam schedule that is best for your child.