Looking After Your Child’s Oral Health

Baby teeth play an integral role in the development of your child’s permanent teeth by helping them to erupt in the correct place and position. If your child loses baby teeth earlier than they should due to decay, their remaining teeth can shift, which often results in adult teeth that can’t erupt properly and can cause overcrowding or teeth that come in crooked. This is one of the main reasons that oral health is so important for young children even though their baby teeth aren’t permanent.

Despite their importance, baby teeth are more susceptible to cavities than adult teeth because they have a thinner layer of protective enamel, so it’s not uncommon for young children to wind up with a cavity or two. If you suspect that your child has a cavity, here’s what you should do to get the tooth treated and to prevent further decay.

Don’t freak out.

If your child ends up with a cavity, don’t freak out or feel guilty—it doesn’t automatically mean that you have failed or done something wrong. Childhood cavities are strikingly common, with the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research finding that 42% of children between the ages of two and 11 have had cavities in their baby teeth. Some children simply get cavities more easily than others, and since baby teeth are more susceptible to cavities in the first place, it’s possible for your child to get a cavity even if you’re trying your best to prevent them through healthy habits and a regular oral hygiene routine.

Evaluate your child’s oral care routine.

Although you might be doing everything possible to prevent your child from getting cavities, it’s a good idea to take the opportunity to think through your child’s oral hygiene routine. Ideally, your child should start seeing a pediatric dentist when their first tooth erupts around the age of one A pediatric dentist can spot issues early and give you advice to help better protect your child’s oral health. If your child doesn’t already have a pediatric dentist, this is a good time to find one and begin seeing them every six months. The dentist doesn’t have to be a negative experience for your little one, and introducing them before problems arise is a great way to make dental appointments less stressful for both you and your child.

You should also start an at-home oral hygiene routine as soon as your child’s first tooth erupts. Begin by gently brushing their teeth, gums, and tongue with a small amount of toothpaste twice a day. You should begin flossing their teeth after they turn two years old. Once your child is old enough to brush their own teeth, watch carefully to make sure that they’re doing a thorough job. Additionally, it’s a good idea to work with your pediatric dentist to ensure your child is getting enough fluoride through your water supply or supplements.

Consider daily habits that might be contributing to tooth decay.

Since their teeth are so vulnerable to cavities, a well-balanced diet is another important part of cavity prevention. Limit sugary snacks and stick to healthy ones—they’re better for your teeth, contain important vitamins and minerals, and you’ll wind up with fewer sugar-fueled highs to handle. You can also reduce their risk of cavities by simply filling their sippy cup with water throughout the day. Cavity-causing bacteria feed off sugar and produce enamel-eroding acids, so if your child is constantly sipping a sugary drink, the bacteria in their mouth is essentially being given a day-long buffet.

Take care of your own oral health.

Surprisingly, you can reduce your child’s chances of getting cavities by improving your own oral health and hygiene. Cavity-causing bacteria are actually contagious; when you eat from the same spoon as your child or clean their pacifier with your mouth, you can transfer harmful bacteria to their mouth. As a result, it’s equally important for you to take care of your own oral health. You should brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time, floss and use mouthwash at least once a day, and visit a dentist twice a year for an evaluation and preventative cleaning.

Visit a pediatric dental office right away.

As soon as you notice a white or brown discoloration on your child’s teeth that might be a cavity, you should call a pediatric dentist and schedule an appointment to get it checked out. This is largely because the thin layer of enamel on baby teeth doesn’t just make children more susceptible to cavities—it actually makes cavities spread faster than they do on adult teeth. Your child’s dentist will be able to tell you whether or not they have a cavity and can provide treatment options that aim to stop the growth of the cavity and save the tooth. They may also be able to give you advice that you wouldn’t think about on your own, such as ways you can improve your child’s oral hygiene routine or daily habits that may actually be increasing your child’s risk for decay.

Parenthood is a learning process. Whether you’re doing everything right or find that you need to make a few changes in order to better protect your child’s oral health, getting immediate treatment and advice for their cavity from a pediatric dentist is what matters. If you take the time to make oral health an important part of their early life—for both yourself and your child—you’ll do more than simply help your child’s adult teeth come in straight and healthy; you’ll create lasting habits that they’ll benefit from for their entire lives.

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