Today's children can grow up with cavity-free teeth, but they need their parents' help. You can improve your children's chances of avoiding cavities by following these eight basic rules:
1. Eat right during pregnancy
A baby's teeth begin forming before he or she is born, so be sure you get plenty of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, C, and D - the building blocks of healthy teeth - during pregnancy.
Pregnant woman need 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day (found in about four glasses of milk). Your doctor may prescribe calcium supplements.
2. Take care of primary teeth
Primary (baby) teeth can develop cavities from the time they begin to appear (usually between 6 and 10 months of age), so they should be cleaned daily. At first you can clean your child's teeth by wiping them with a piece of gauze or a damp washcloth. Later, use a soft-bristled children's toothbrush with a straight handle that fits into your child's mouth easily and won't scratch the gums. Have your child sit next to you and lean his or her head backward into your lap, so that you can see all the teeth easily. Use your free hand to hold your child's lips open, and gently brush all the tooth surfaces.
Inspect your child's teeth for white, yellow, or brown spots, which can be signs of decay. Also, if your child has a toothache or feels pain when eating hot, cold, or sweet foods, a cavity could be the culprit.
3. Teach toddlers to care for their teeth
The best way to teach dental care is to set a good example. Let your child watch and imitate you. Children can begin brushing their own teeth as early as 2 or 3, although you should do a thorough backup brushing until they reach 6 or 7. Check their teeth regularly until they're about 8 to see that they've brushed well. Disclosing tablets, which tint areas the toothbrush has missed, can help children do a thorough job.
Children can brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Use a pea-size amount for young children, and make sure they don't swallow it.
Flossing should begin when your children's teeth fit closely together, usually at 2 to 3 years of age.
4. See a dentist early
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children see a dentist by their first birthday. When preparing your child for the first checkup, don't use words like needle or drill or say it won't hurt; that just puts ideas into a child's head. Try to answer any questions in simple, reassuring terms.
5. Use fluorides
Fluorides help protect teeth from decay and fight cavities in at least four ways:
- They strengthen the enamel of developing teeth.
- They make fully formed teeth more resistant to decay.
- They act with minerals in saliva to restore and harden enamel that's been damaged by early stages of decay.
- They are present in saliva, where they help reduce the amount of acid produced by bacteria. In addition to drinking fluoridated water, regular use of fluoride toothpaste protect against decay. Your dentist may also apply a fluoride solution to the truth.
6. Ask your dentist about sealants
Sealants are special plastic coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, where cavities usually begin. Applied by a dental professional, sealants form a barrier that keeps food and bacteria out of tiny grooves in the tooth enamel, places a toothbrush can't reach.
7. Snack wisely
- Avoid frequent snacking. Every time sugary or starchy foods are eaten, bacteria in the mouth produce cavity-causing acids for at least 20 minutes. If children do snack on these foods, have them brush afterward.
- Offer children nutritious and smile-saving snacks like cheese, carrot and celery sticks, or plain popcorn.
- Check labels to avoid hidden sugars in processed foods like peanut butter and ketchup.
- Beware of starchy foods like potato chips and bread; they can harm the teeth as much as sweets because both sugars and starches feed the bacteria that produce decay-causing acids.
- Avoid foods that remain in the mouth or on the teeth for long periods. Sucking on hand candies or sipping sugar-sweetened beverages is likely to cause decay because the sugar continues to feed bacteria. Sticky foods like caramel and raisins have the same effect because they cling to the teeth.
8. Avoid nursing-bottle syndrome
One of the biggest threats to babies' teeth is a condition called nursing-bottle syndrome, caused by giving baby a bottle with milk or fruit juice at bedtime or for long periods during the day.
The sugars in formula feed the bacteria in a baby's mouth. The bacteria then produce acids that can gradually dissolve tooth enamel. When the baby is asleep, there is very little saliva in the mouth to wash away the acids and protect the teeth. The front teeth may quickly develop severe decay and even crumble away. This is totally preventable if you do not allow the child to go to bed holding a bottle with anything other than water.