According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tooth decay is the most common chronic infectious disease in children in the United States. It involves far more than just a painful cavity. Left untreated, tooth decay can lead to problems in speech, hearing, learning and social interaction. The good news is that teaching kids healthy habits early when it comes to nutrition and brushing can eliminate the threat of a cavity problem. Here are five ways to improve your child’s dental health.
Don’t wait until you see your infant’s teeth
Pregnant moms can give their kids a leg up by obtaining proper prenatal care and adhering to a healthy diet to eliminate the chances of a cleft lip or palate. Once baby is born, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that parents clean infants’ gums with a soft cloth and water, starting the weeks after birth.
Choose the right toothbrush for your baby’s first teeth
As soon as teeth appear, start brushing baby’s teeth twice a day with a soft bristled brush intended just for infants. Whether you choose a manual or battery-powered toothbrush, the AAPD recommends a brush with round-ended bristles that are gentle to the gums, and with a large handle designed for little hands. Select toothpaste specifically designed for babies and children to reduce exposure to fluoride. For children under two years old, a slight smear of toothpaste on the brush is sufficient. After your child turns two, increase to a pea-size droplet of fluoride toothpaste for children up to eight years old. Don’t forget to replace toothbrushes at least every three months to avoid potential gum damage by frayed bristles.
Don’t share foods with your baby
Dr. Louis Amendola, chief dental director at Western Dental Services Inc., warns parents against taste-testing baby’s food, explaining that babies aren’t born with the bacteria that causes tooth decay, but actually acquire it from someone who has had a cavity (usually an adult). “Make sure caregivers take good care of their teeth to reduce the harmful bacteria that they could transfer. Second, don’t swap spit,” advises Dr. Amendola.
Eat for healthy teeth
Naturally, eating too many sugars will lead to tooth decay, but there are also foods that can help fight cavities. The AAPD recommends that kids snack on cheese, explaining that “cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, and Monterey jack all stimulate the body’s salivary glands to clear the mouth of debris and protect teeth from acids that weaken them.” Further, the calcium and phosphorus found in cheese helps re-mineralize tooth enamel.
Drink nothing but water after brushing at night
If your child goes to bed with milk or juice, banish the habit before it’s too late; do not allow anything but water after brushing at night. Dr. Amendola warns that “the serious tooth decay that results from teeth bathed in juice or milk overnight is particularly aggressive and can destroy many teeth very quickly.”