Fluoride is a mineral known for its ability to help protect teeth against decay. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recognizes fluoride as effective in preventing cavities in children and adolescents, which is why it is now recommended to use the size of a grain of rice of fluoride toothpaste for children under the age of 2. It allows your child’s teeth to become stronger and more resistant to cavities by making the enamel stronger. Fluoride can help fight cavities because it prevents the loss of minerals in the enamel. Fluoride can also help discourage acid attacks that can break down teeth. This is why when coming to our dental office, your child not only gets a thorough cleaning, but an in-office fluoride treatment is applied to your child’s teeth.
A dental sealant is a thin plastic coating that is applied and bonded to the pits and grooves of the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. This helps protect them from tooth decay. Most cavities in children start to form on these chewing surfaces, and sealants keep dental plaque and food particles out of these pits and grooves. A sealant creates a smooth surface on the tooth thereby making it much easier to keep clean. Applying sealants does not require any drilling or removal of any tooth structure. The first permanent molars usually start to erupt when children are about 6 years old, and the second permanent molars at about 12 years of age. Sealants should be applied as soon as the entire tooth has come into the mouth, before it has a chance to decay.
Dental Care for Your Baby
Baby teeth typically start to come into the mouth between the ages of 6-12 months. However, even before the teeth start to erupt, careful attention should be placed on the gums. Wiping your baby’s gums with a damp washcloth or a piece of gauze after nursing or bottle-feeding can clear your baby’s gums of any food particles. While your baby is teething, teething rings can be useful in helping the teeth come through the gums. Over-the-counter pain medications can be helpful as well, just make sure to give them when your baby is most irritable and to follow the recommendations on the bottle.
Once your baby’s tooth finally comes into the mouth, you should start using a baby toothbrush. Use a “smear” of fluoridated toothpaste to brush the teeth of a child less than 2 years of age. For the 2-5 year old, dispense a “pea-size” amount of toothpaste and help your child with brushing. It is essential that you brush your child’s teeth as well and don’t let him/her brush by him/herself. This is will allow you to monitor the teeth for any changes on the teeth, including white spots, stains, or cavities.
Whether nursing or using the bottle, do not let your child fall asleep during feedings. Anything other than water left on your baby’s teeth can cause cavities. Brush your child’s teeth after naptime and bedtime feedings, or at least wipe them down with a washcloth or a xylitol-containing dental wipe.
X-Ray Use and Safety
The purpose of X-rays is to allow dentists to see signs of cavities or potential problems that are not clinically visible. Because every child is different, the need for x-rays will vary among children. We are particularly careful to minimize exposure of patients to radiation. Patients are dressed with lead aprons in addition to a thyroid shield. Our office uses a digital x-ray system assuring minimal amount of radiation exposure. Dental x-rays represent a far less significant risk than dental problems that remain undiagnosed and untreated.
The frequency at which x-rays are taken varies depending on every child’s needs. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that x-rays be taken every 6 months for any child who has a high risk of getting cavities. That risk is determined by the dentist based on the examination. On average, however, most children get x-rays every 12 months.
X-rays are not only taken to detect cavities between the teeth, they are also taken to diagnose any bone diseases, evaluate dental injuries, monitor the erupting teeth, and to evaluate orthodontic treatment.
Diet and Snacking
In order for children to have properly developed teeth and healthy gums, they must have a well-balanced diet. A diet high in sugars and starches can put your child’s teeth at risk for cavities. This does not mean, however, that you shouldn’t give your child any starches or sugars. Some foods with sugars and starches are necessary for your child’s diet. However, try and incorporate those foods as part of their meals and not as a separate snack.
As a general rule, sticky foods should be avoided. These include raisins or any other dried fruits, freeze-dried fruits, sticky candies, and fruit leathers. These stick to the chewing surfaces of the teeth and cannot be easily washed away by saliva or removed with brushing.
Dental Emergency Care
Emergencies happen unexpectedly. However, when dental emergencies do happen, it is important that you contact our office as soon as possible and we will do our best to schedule you the same day. If your child experiences a dental emergency after hours, the doctor can be reached through the emergency number.
Younger children are even more prone to accidents. Falls can result in tooth fractures, bleeding gums, fractured fillings, dislodged teeth, or knocked out teeth. Not every instance of tooth trauma requires a dental emergency visit, but it is best to have it evaluated to determine any serious damage or what treatment would be necessary if any.
Thumb, Finger and Pacifier Habits
Digit sucking is a natural reflex for infants and young children. They may use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects on which to suck. This gives them a feeling of security during difficult times or it helps them fall asleep. The intensity in which they suck their thumb, finger(s), or pacifier determines the effects the habit can have on their dental development. Children who just passively place their fingers or thumb in their mouth will have less dental alignment problems than those who intensely suck on their fingers or thumb. These habits apply forces to the teeth and the surrounding bone, potentially causing changes in their bite and facial growth. Pacifiers affect the teeth much the same way as digit sucking. The pacifier, though, can be an easier habit to modify since children don’t have direct access to the pacifier as they do to their fingers. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry encourages parents to help their children stop these habits by age 3 or younger. If these habits continue past the period of eruption of the permanent teeth, then orthodontic intervention may be needed.