Learn how to properly care for your child’s teeth.
By Brenda Bohaty, DDS, MSD, Ph.D.
University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 37% of children (ages 2-8 years) have dental cavities in primary (baby) teeth. Although dental caries (cavities) is preventable, it remains the most prevalent chronic disease in children and adults. Providing proper oral health care is an important part of caring for young children.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children be seen for a dental examination by 12 months of age or no later than 6 months after the eruption of the first tooth. The goal of beginning dental care early is to give parents/caregivers important information about caring for their child’s teeth, including ways to minimize decay. During this examination, the dentist can:
- Detect early signs of decay.
- Determine the fluoride needs of the child, and
- Educate caregivers about what can be expected in the future.
It also allows your child to start becoming familiar with going to the dentist. Your child’s dental team will recommend follow-up visits appropriate for your child’s needs. Keeping this schedule will help ensure proper development and maintenance of your child’s teeth.
Baby teeth typically begin to erupt between 4 and 15 months of age, and help children in several different ways:
- They assist in obtaining good nutrition through proper food chewing.
- Aid in developing appropriate speech sounds.
- Hold space so that the adult teeth can come into the mouth correctly.
Baby teeth are more likely to get cavities because they have thinner enamel (outside tooth wall) than adult teeth and this can allow cavities to progress quicker. Untreated dental cavities can limit children’s eating ability and can result in children missing school because of tooth pain. Having untreated dental cavities can also lead to dental infections and the need to have teeth removed prematurely.
Take care of gums before teeth come in
Start wiping the gums of infant children before teeth erupt and once teeth erupt, they should be brushed at least twice daily with a soft toothbrush. Brushing the child’s teeth well before bedtime is particularly important. Avoid fluoridated toothpaste until your child can rinse and spit out the excess. If a fluoridated toothpaste is used, use only a pea-sized amount for children ages 3 to 6 years. Most young children lack the manual dexterity to effectively brush without help from an adult until they are about 6 years old.
It is important to remember that the bacteria that causes tooth decay can be passed from adults to children, so parents and caregivers should also take good care of their own teeth.
Get additional info
You can learn more about taking care of your child’s dental health through these resources:
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry – www.aapd.org
American Academy of Pediatrics – www.aap.org
American Dental Association – www.ADA.org
ABOUT DR. BOHATY
Brenda Bohaty, DDS, MSD, Ph.D. is Nelson Professor and Chair-Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry.