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Children's Oral Health FAQs
Q: What is a cavity?
A; A cavity is the end product of a bacterial disease process called “caries” that damages the hard tooth structures. Over time, these structures break down, producing a hole in the tooth - a cavity. Babies are born without the bacteria that cause caries. Children pick up the bacteria by sharing saliva with others, especially their primary caregivers. Caregivers pass on the germs in everyday ways, such as sharing a spoon or cleaning off a pacifier by licking it. The germs that start the caries process can infect the baby even before the baby has teeth.
Q: Why is going to the dentist important for both parents and children?
A: Parents who are in poor dental health or who have untreated dental problems are likely to be highly infected with the bacteria that cause dental caries (cavities); they can infect their babies. In addition, dentists have important information to share with all parents to help keep their child’s teeth healthy. For instance, how to clean an infants’ gums, brush the teeth properly, what types of foods, snacks and drinks increase the risk of cavities, how the frequency of eating (and breastfeeding) can increase the risk of cavities and how to protect children’s teeth from injury.
Q: Baby teeth aren’t that important, right?
A: Wrong! Baby (or “primary”) teeth are important for many reasons:
- They are needed for proper chewing and eating to maintain good nutrition.
- They are needed to speak clearly.
- They hold the spaces for the permanent teeth, so the permanent teeth can emerge straight and in the correct position.
- A child’s smile affects their sense of self esteem & confidence.
Q: When should I start brushing my child’s teeth?
A: As of 2008, professional recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry call for all children to begin brushing with the eruption of the first tooth, brush twice per day, and use a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste.
Brush children’s teeth with a small soft-bristle toothbrush. For children younger than 2, use a very small “smear” of toothpaste (approximately .125 grams). For children 3 to 5, use a “pea-size” amount (approximately .25 grams), covering about one-half the head of a small, child-sized toothbrush.
Encourage your child to spit out the toothpaste; it is not necessary to rinse the mouth.
Brushing does not have to occur in front of a sink. Parents tell us bath time is a great time and place to brush a child’s teeth.
Brush your child’s teeth twice each day - once in the morning and once after the last meal or snack of the day. Many parents find if they wait to brush until right before bedtime, the child has already fallen asleep! Other parents like a getting-ready-for-bedtime routine that includes tooth brushing.
Q: Is fluoridated toothpaste safe for young children?
A: Yes. The primary concern regarding the use of fluoride toothpaste with young children is that too much fluoride can affect the appearance of the permanent teeth, a condition called fluorosis. For this reason, it is very important to limit the amount of fluoridated toothpaste used with children younger than 6. The recommended dose to use with children younger than 2 is a “smear” (.125 grams); a “pea-size” (.25 grams) is recommended for children 3 to 5 years.
An adult should apply the toothpaste to the brush to make sure the child does not get too much. Adults should think about toothpaste like a drug or like vitamins and keep toothpaste out of children’s reach. A child may be tempted to eat or lick candy-flavored, sparkly toothpastes, now widely available, right from the tube.
Q: When should I take my child to the dentist?
A: Dental and medical professionals recommend all children see a dentist shortly after the eruption of the first tooth or no later than 12 months.
If you see white spots developing on your child’s teeth, take your child to a dentist right away. A white spot is often the first sign of a dental cavity.