Baby Teeth, Big Mistakes

by Jill Taylor on June 11, 2013

in Healthy Living

brushEven though they are temporary, your child’s baby teeth are important, and are still susceptible to cavities. You may think that juice in the bottle is no big deal, and baby teeth fall out anyway, but it is important to start your child off with good dental hygiene at a young age.

“It’s important to start infants off with good oral care to help protect their teeth for decades to come,” says Pam Fulton, registered dental hygienist at Scott & White Hospital and Clinic.

Impact on Adult Teeth

Your child’s first teeth can help their adult teeth come in correctly and healthy. Unfortunately, tooth decay is one of the most common disorders, second only to the common cold.

“Children need strong, healthy teeth to chew their food, speak and maintain space for the permanent teeth,” explains Fulton.

If your child fails to take care of his teeth, he can develop painful conditions, including:

  • Toothaches
  • Dental cavities
  • Inflamed gums known as Gingivitis

Scott & White dentist, Dr. Kyle Frazier treats these conditions and educates children and families who might be making some mistakes in taking care of their child’s teeth. Ask yourself these five questions to see if you are putting your child at risk for tooth decay, cavities or other dental problems:

1. Caught in a Sugar Snag?

Even with routine brushing, sugar and unhealthy foods can severely deteriorate teeth and unravel your hygiene. One of the biggest pitfalls is feeding your child high-sugar foods, without proper brushing and flossing.

“What a child eats will greatly influence their dental health,” says Scott & White Dentist, Dr. Kyle Frazier. “Cavities form as a result of acid production by bacteria that metabolize sugar. Sticky, sugary foods should be limited, and teeth should be brushed after having them.”

2. Too Much Toothpaste?

“The most important consideration in brushing a young child’s teeth is how much toothpaste to use,” says Dr. Frazier.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests using only a “smear” of fluoridated toothpaste for children less than two years old. A smear means barely wetting the toothbrush with toothpaste. An alternative is to use non-fluoridated toothpaste for children under two years old. Once a child reaches two to five years old, a “pea-size” amount of fluoridated toothpaste may be used.

3. Forgetting to Floss?

Children should be taught to floss their teeth once per day,” says Dr. Frazier. “Teaching them this habit early is important. There are floss holders made specifically for children that make it easier for them to floss.”

Another tip is to use a sugar-free gum after meals for children who are old enough to chew gum since the action of chewing the gum will help to dislodge food that might be stuck to the teeth.

4. Can’t Let go of the Bottle?

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay most often occurs in the upper front teeth, but other teeth may also be affected.

This is caused by frequent, prolonged exposure of the baby’s teeth to drinks that contain sugar. Tooth decay can occur when the baby is put to bed with a bottle, or when a bottle is used as a pacifier for a fussy baby. Fulton adds that if the bottle is filled with milk or juice, or anything with sugar, the child is at risk for decay.

Breastfed infants can also develop tooth decay if they fall asleep during a feeding, or if they use a pacifier that has been dipped into a sugary liquid.

 5. When do Pacifiers or Thumb Sucking become a Problem?

“If your child sucks strongly on a pacifier or his thumb or fingers beyond two to four years of age, this behavior may affect the shape of his mouth or how his teeth are lining up,” says dental hygienist Fulton.

Sometimes thumb sucking and pacifiers are more of a comfort item, and need some encouragement from parents to break the habit. It is important for children to stop sucking on a pacifier or fingers before his permanent front teeth come in. This will hopefully help the child’s bite to correct itself.

“If the bite does not correct itself and the upper adult teeth are sticking out, orthodontic treatment may be needed to realign the teeth and help prevent broken front teeth,” says Fulton.

Remember to stay patient and don’t put too much pressure on your child. Give praise for the times when they go without sucking. Usually this habit will stop before they get very far in school, due to social pressures and healthy encouragement.

Ways to Prevent Tooth Decay in Children:

There can be a lot to do as a parent, but remembering to brush, floss, and cut down on sugars and sucking can give your child the habits they need to stay healthy in the long run.

Here are a few additional tips from our Scott & White hygienist to make sure your child avoids those costly mistakes:

  • After each feeding, wipe your child’s gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or washcloth.
  • When your child’s teeth come in, brush them gently with a child-size toothbrush and water. Be sure to consult with your child’s dentist or physician if you are considering using fluoride toothpaste before age two.
  • Brush the teeth with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste from the ages of two to six.
  • Supervise brushing until your child can spit and not swallow toothpaste—usually not before ages of six or seven.
  • Infants should finish their bedtime and naptime bottles before going to bed.
  • If your child uses a pacifier, provide one that is clean—don’t dip it for flavoring.
  • Encourage your child to drink from a cup by his or her first birthday.

For more information and to avoid mishaps in dental care for children, talk to your dentist and schedule a visit as soon as you see your child’s first tooth. Starting early can be the key to a lifetime of good dental health. Also, check out our other article, “Baby Teeth, Big Habits.”

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