From the time those first pearly whites poke through an infant’s gums, dental care becomes one more thing for parents to worry about. However, when care and maintenance start early and families are diligent about taking preventive measures, it can ease that worry.
When to start
“We always recommend that babies see a dentist as soon as they have teeth,” said Dr. Amy Wadas, of Wadas Dental in Munster. “It is important to get the young ones used to coming to see us. It builds a relationship with the doctor and young ones. Most babies and kids only associate going to the doctor as a bad experience of getting shots or being sick. We like to get them in early, play dentist, count teeth and put them at ease. This helps to avoid having to go to a specialist, like a pediatric dentist in some cases.
Most of the time, a child can see the family dentist. "We love to see kids,” Wadas said. “A pediatric dentist is utilized when kids can't sit still long enough to have their teeth cleaned or when there is a large number of cavities to be treated. Most pediatric dentists have the ability to use nitrous oxide or sleep-type help.”
Even before the first tooth appears, gently wiping baby’s gums with a clean, damp, soft washcloth or gauze after feedings is recommended.
What to avoid
Though sugar is known to be bad for your teeth, dentists recognize that kids are still going to eat some, so they’re working to steer kids toward less damaging sweets.
Not all sugars are the same. The American Dental Association has reported that chocolate washes off your teeth easier than other kinds of candy. Dark chocolate is better yet because it has less sugar than milk chocolate. If kids are going to eat sugar, the ADA calls chocolate “your best bet.”
The worst kind of sugar comes in the form of sticky, chewy and gummy candies that stay on your teeth longer, giving cavity-causing bacteria more time to work. Hard candies also stay in your mouth for longer periods of time, so sugar gets into your saliva and washes over your teeth.
Snacking presents a problem because continual sipping and eating makes it harder to rinse off food particles and prevent tooth decay. Eating sweets or sugary beverages with meals is a better choice since saliva production increases during meals.
Keeping teeth healthy
Aside from limiting sugar and chewy snacks, a lot goes into keeping teeth healthy. Brushing should begin in the baby days. Using a baby toothbrush, use a dot of fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice twice a day.
Sippy cups should be ditched around the child’s first birthday and shouldn’t be used for sugary drinks.
Once teeth are touching, use dental floss daily to clean between the teeth.
“Parents should always supervise until they feel comfortable with kids doing it on their own,” said Wadas. “Don't be afraid to inspect and go over their work and make sure the kid got everything.” Continue to supervise until children can spit out toothpaste rather than swallowing it, which is typically around age 6.
Brushing should happen after a meal whenever possible, said Wadas, but at least in the morning and at night before bed. Flossing should happen at night and before you begin brushing. For good measure, use a fluoride rinse but avoid those with alcohol.
Wadas recommends avoiding candy, juice, soft drinks and sticky candy. But she recommends products that have Xylitol, such as sugarless gum, in them. Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol that can help prevent cavities by producing saliva to remove particles from the mouth.
A visit with a dental hygienist for teeth cleaning is recommended every six months. “Each person is different,” Wadas said. “Quite a few people get their teeth cleaned at the three-, four- or six-month interval.”
Get your fluoride
Getting enough fluoride can help reduce the risk of tooth decay. One source is toothpaste, but tap water is an important source. Many versions of bottled water don’t contain it. “While the American Dental Association still supports fluoridation in the water supply, more and more people are not drinking tap water and not receiving fluoride,” Wadas said.
Regular fluoride treatments administered by your dentist can ensure you’re getting the fluoride you need. “We recommend fluoride for all patients, unless there is an allergy or medical reason to not apply it,” Wadas said.