Healthy Smiles for Kids
There’s nothing quite as beautiful as a child’s smile. With good oral care at home and regular dental visits, children can reach adulthood without suffering from tooth decay and other oral health problems.
Plaque (rhymes with “back”) is a sticky film of bacteria that is always forming on teeth. When combined with sugar from food and drinks, these bacteria produce acids that attack tooth enamel. Repeated acid attacks can break down enamel and finally result in tooth decay.
Frequent snacks in between meals expose teeth to repeated acid attacks. So do frequent sips of sugary beverages (including juices, sodas and sports drinks). For good dental and overall health, be sure your child eats a balanced diet with foods from the major food groups. If your child needs a between-meal snack, choose healthy foods. Save sweets for mealtime, when the mouth makes more saliva to help rinse out food particles.
For more information about healthy foods and drinks, see www.choosemyplate.gov.
Keep That Smile Clean
Brushing twice a day and flossing once a day are important for keeping teeth and gums healthy.
- Choose a child-size toothbrush with soft bristles. Replace it every three to four months or when it becomes worn.
- For children under the age of two, brush the teeth gently with water. Consult your child’s dentist or physician if you are considering using fluoride toothpaste before age two.
- For children two to six years of age, a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste is all that is needed. Be sure your child spits out the toothpaste and does not swallow it.
- As children grow up and become more skillful, they’ll be able to brush their own teeth, but may require daily reminders!
Fluoride, Nature’s Cavity Fighter
Fluoride is a mineral that strengthens teeth and protects them from decay. It occurs naturally in some drinking water.
If you live in an area without optimal levels of fluoride in the community drinking water, your dentist or physician may prescribe fluoride supplements. In areas that have proper amounts of fluoride in the drinking water, children should not take fluoride supplements. Fluoride is also found in many types of toothpastes, mouth rinses and treatments applied in the dental office.
Talk to the dentist about your child’s fluoride needs. Be sure to tell your child’s dentist if you use bottled water or a water treatment system at home.
Protect Teeth with Sealants
Sealants are made from a plastic material that the dentist brushes onto the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. Sealants protect teeth from plaque and acid attacks. As long as the sealant remains intact, the tooth surface will be protected from decay. Sealants may need to be reapplied at some point. During your regular dental visits, your dentist will check the sealants and reapply them when necessary.
Floss Every Day
Flossing is important to remove plaque from between teeth where a toothbrush can’t reach. Floss the teeth until your child is old enough to do so himself. Then show your child how to use floss or another between-the-teeth cleaner. Your child’s dentist or hygienist can teach proper brushing and flossing. Look for dental products that display the ADA Seal of Acceptance, which means they meet the ADA standards for safety and effectiveness.
Why Regular Dental Visits Are Important
Regular dental check-ups and dental care–such as cleanings, fluoride treatments and sealants–provide your child with “smile insurance.” Plan your child’s first dental visit within six months after the first tooth appears, but no later than the first birthday. Consider it a “well baby checkup” for your child’s teeth.
At the dental visit, the dental team will:
- check on oral hygiene, injuries, cavities, or other problems
- find out your child’s risk of getting tooth decay
- assess how the teeth are developing
- let you know if your child may later need treatment for crooked teeth or a “bad bite”
- provide advice to help you take care of your child’s oral health
Prevent Sports-Related Dental Injuries
Sports-related dental injuries can be prevented by wearing a mouth guard. Mouth guards are available at sporting goods stores or can be custom-made by your dentist to fit your child’s mouth. Ask your dentist which type is best for your child, especially if he or she wears braces.