Ten Things Parents Should Know

About Their Child's Dental Care

Start gentle-brushing or use a cloth to clean your baby's gums before the first tooth appears. This helps your child get used to that feeling before a tooth comes in. Of course some of the little ones are resistant to this, but it's worth a try.

When your child reaches the age of two, you can use a smear of fluoridated toothpaste on a toothbrush to help prevent decay. At age three, it is okay to use a pea-size amount of fluoridated toothpaste. Remember to keep toothpaste in locked cabinets or high and out of reach of children. Unfortunately, many little ones think toothpaste is candy and should be consumed as such. Large amounts of toothpaste may create white spots on the permanent teeth when they come in and they are impossible to remove.

Pacifiers or thumbs – which are worse? Studies have shown that children who suck their thumbs tend to do it more often and for longer periods of time. When it comes time to break the habit, it is easier to remove the pacifier than it is the thumb.

Babies can catch cavity-causing bacteria from their caregivers. In fact, the mother is generally responsible for 71 percent of the transmission of strep mutans bacteria that are responsible for most cavities. Parents with excessive tooth decay generally have more aggressive forms of strep mutans and, as a result, their children usually have a much higher rate of decay. Conversely, the better a mother's oral health, the better her child's oral health.

If your child goes to sleep with a bottle, it should not contain milk or juice – only water. Babies' teeth are very soft and have not hardened from fluoride, making their teeth very susceptible to prolonged exposure to sugars and acids. Baby bottle decay is one of the hardest things for a dentist to treat and it is an ordeal for both parent and child.

Breastfeeding has been shown to be beneficial to the development of the child. However, if a child breastfeeds often or for long periods of time once a first tooth has erupted, use a cloth to clean the tooth. Try to minimize these long periods of breastfeeding, if possible.

A logical question I often hear from parents is: why place fillings in baby teeth when they are going to come out anyway? Baby teeth are used for chewing, similar to adult teeth. They are also used to hold space and promote proper growth of the dental arches. If a tooth is pulled or lost prematurely, surrounding teeth can shift and crowd out permanent teeth. As the child gets older, teeth are often misaligned and require orthodontic correction.

When a child's first permanent molar comes in, it does not replace a baby tooth. Usually this happens at age six. When these teeth come in, they will probably last 70 years! It is important to know they are coming in and they are, in fact, permanent teeth. As soon as they are visible, have your dentist place sealants on them to protect the most susceptible surface (the biting surface). This is very important!

Your child should get used to an electric toothbrush as soon as possible. Sonicare makes a toothbrush called Sonicare for Kids, which is fantastic. Getting children to use it is not easy, but keep trying and eventually they will adapt to it. At 30,000 strokes a minute, it does a much better job cleaning teeth, even if the little ones give you only a short time before resisting. Eventually they can go for the full two-minute cycle and customize the colors on their brush too.

Do not have your child drink bottled water or highly filtered tap water. Young teeth really need the fluoride from our tap water to harden quickly. It typically takes about three years for the tooth to uptake all its fluoride and, in those early "soft" years, it is imperative we harden those teeth quickly.