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Parents think about children's dental care and oral health a lot when Halloween or Easter come around. But fighting off cavities and ensuring proper tooth development is a yearlong job. Tooth decay is the single most common condition facing children, but luckily it's one of the most preventable.
Tooth decay is exceptionally common, but not every child receives proper treatment for dental caries (cavities and other decay):
So what causes all these cavities in children? It's tempting to say candy or soda, and there's some truth in that. Cavities are caused when bacteria creates acid to break down debris on the surface of the teeth, especially when sugar is present. But forms of sugar aren't limited to sweets. Fruits contain sugar, especially dried fruits. Starchy foods break down into sugars too, so products with bread, potatoes, or corn have an impact. And sweeteners are added to many of our foods, often without being noticeable. Be aware of the carbohydrate and sugar content of your foods! A healthy diet is a major component of preventing or reducing tooth decay.
A healthy diet is a great start, but your child's teeth are still developing. Any food is a potential source of tooth decay, and bacteria exist in the mouth no matter how well you eat. So how do you protect those new teeth?
Practice Good Dental Habits: Teach your children how to brush their teeth thoroughly, paying attention to their entire mouth and not just the front teeth. Supervise them until they've got their brushing technique down and are using an appropriate amount of toothpaste (a pea-sized dollop is enough for children). Children should brush their teeth at least twice a day, in the morning and just before bed.
Fluoride: A fluoride toothpaste is safe for children age 2 or above, but make sure they're not using too much. Talk to your dentist about fluoride as soon as your baby's first tooth erupts. If you live in an area with fluoridated water, your child may not need more than that, but without this you may need to strengthen their teeth with fluoride drops, tablets, or lozenges.
Dental Sealant: Dentists recommend that sealants should be placed on newly erupted, permanent first molars at around age 6-7. This creates a barrier to bacteria, especially in the harder to reach back teeth.
Flossing: The age to start flossing depends on your child's dental development, but teeth usually begin growing closer together between ages 2 and 6.
Mouthwash: Most dentists don't recommend allowing your children to use mouthwash until the age of 6 or older, as many can't prevent themselves from swallowing it. An alcohol-free, fluoride rinse for kids is recommended if mouthwash is needed.
Start Early: Your child should have their first dentist visit by the age of 1. Even before their first tooth erupts, you can clean their gums with a gauze pad or infant washcloth to get rid of the bacteria present. Dentists differ on when to start using a toothbrush: most say either around age 2-3, or after about four teeth come in.
Wear Proper Sports Gear: 10 to 39 percent of dental injuries in children are caused by sports. It's easy to chip or brake a tooth while playing hard. Make sure your child has protection, including a mouth guard.
Please consult with your doctor or other qualified health care professional before taking any medication, supplement, or beginning any health regimen.