Teeth, a life-long care approach


The early years of a child’s life are the most influential part of their development, from learning how to walk, eat and talk, to forming life-long behaviors such as taking good care of their teeth. The impact caregivers have in molding these norms affect how children ultimately maintain healthy teeth. According to the American Dental Association, before the first teeth are visible, parents should clean a baby’s mouth by wiping the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth.

If a child uses a pacifier, avoid dipping pacifiers in sugar, honey, juice or sweetened drinks since this could potentially lead to tooth decay. A baby’s first tooth usually erupts or pushes through the gums at about 6 months of age and this could be the start of risk for cavities if proper oral hygiene has not been implemented. In infants and toddlers, tooth decay is often referred to as baby bottle tooth decay, and many times this occurs in the upper front teeth. This can be caused by long-term exposure to liquids that contain sugar. Most parents are aware that juices are high in sugar, but they are often surprised to learn that breastmilk and formula are also very sweet. Therefore, it is just as important to implement proper oral hygiene practices in children who are breastfed or bottle-fed, regardless of their exposure to other sugary drinks.

For children younger than 3 years old, caregivers should begin brushing as soon as teeth begin to develop in the mouth by using an ADA-sealed infant toothpaste in an amount no more than a smear or the size of a grain of rice. Brush teeth thoroughly twice per day, preferably after the first and last meal of the day, or as directed by a dentist or physician. For children 3 to 6 years of age, use a pea-sized amount of children’s fluoride toothpaste twice daily or as directed by a dentist or physician. Supervise children’s brushing to ensure that they use the appropriate amount of toothpaste and spit out any excess. Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in all water sources and is added to some community tap water, toothpastes and mouth rinses. Infants and toddlers who do not receive an adequate amount of fluoride may be at an increased risk for tooth decay since fluoride helps make tooth enamel more resistant to decay and also repairs weakened enamel.

One way to make your child’s teeth brushing experience fun, rather than a chore, could be by using a reward system at home that will encourage your child to brush their teeth. For example, every time your child remembers to brush their teeth on their own they receive reward points, which add up and provide the child with special privileges, activities or inexpensive items such as stickers, activity books, small toy animals or puzzles.

Another way to contribute to the prevention of tooth decay in children is encouraging healthy eating habits. The ADA recommends eating a balanced diet and using the five food groups of vegetables, fruits, protein, whole grains and dairy to help with the development of strong and healthy teeth. Foods high in carbohydrates, sugars and starches can lead to gum disease and cavities because they contribute to the production of plaque and acids that attack the tooth enamel, which could then form a cavity.

To help control the amount of sugar consumed, read nutritional labels on the food you buy and choose ones that are low in added sugars. Lastly, routine dental checkups, the first of which should occur by one year old, reinforce the ideals of healthy teeth through receiving professional care and assistance, where necessary. These tested and proven steps develop lasting healthy teeth from childhood into adulthood.

For more information, contact the preventive dentistry team at the 341st Medical Operations Squadron at the Malmstrom Clinic.

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