Early Dental Care for Children Important for a Lifetime of Oral Health
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, an initiative by the American Dental Association to raise awareness about the importance of oral health.
Here in Happy Valley, area dental professionals discuss proper hygiene for children and the significance of developing good habits at an early age.
Treby Hoak, registered dental hygienist at Donald Marks Family Dentistry on University Drive, says children should start seeing a dentist at the age of six months, based on new recommendations by the ADA. Visits should be twice a year.
Before children grow teeth, parents or caregivers can use a wash cloth to wipe their mouths, Hoak says. This practice helps reduce bacteria when teeth do come in.
Tooth brushing should begin at the first sign of teeth, she says. “Brushing at an early age is very, very important."
Teeth should be brushed before a child goes to bed. Hoak stresses that children should not go to bed with a bottle or other object as this can cause rotting overnight.
A child’s toothbrush should be small enough to fit in the child’s mouth, but also able to reach the back. It is encouraged that children learn to brush their own teeth; however, parents may want to go back in after the child is done brushing to make sure all areas have been cleaned.
Other ways rotting can be avoided, Hoak says, is by limiting snacks throughout the day. Once a child’s meal is completed there should be no further eating.
“The same thing with any type of juice or milk,” she says, as sugar can sit on the teeth all day and cause issues.
“If they’re going to sip on something we recommend water,” Hoak says.
Other good health practices involving the use of fluoride and sealants. Parents should check their tap water to make sure it contains good levels of fluoride. If not, children can receive fluoride treatments at the dentist’s office.
Sealants, Hoak says, are good preventative treatments provided by a dentist, and can start when six year molars grow in.
Some oral causes for concern include any type of pain or discomfort, she said, as well as discolored teeth.
“It’s really important to have them come in,” Hoak says.
Parents also should be aware of any lumps, bumps or sores, especially ones that last longer than two weeks.
“Oral cancer is less common in children, but it does happen,” she says.
Children should also be brought into the dentist after falls or other injuries involving the mouth.
Hoak says it’s important children want to go to the dentist, instead of feeling afraid. It may help ease children’s’ fears if they see parents or a sibling in the dental chair.
“We make it fun here,” she says.
Emily Aukes-Janoscrat, registered dental hygienist at Pediatric Dental Care & Happy Valley Orthodontics in Port Matilda, recommends a “smidge” of fluoride toothpaste for brushing when the child is old enough not to swallow it.
“By age four or five, children should be able to brush their own teeth twice a day with supervision until about age seven to make sure they are doing a thorough job,” she says. “However, each child is different. Your dentist can help you determine whether the child has the skill level to brush properly.”
Aukes-Janoscrat says proper brushing removes plaque from the inner, outer and chewing surfaces. When teaching children to brush, the toothbrush should be placed at a 45 degree angle.
“Start along the gum line with a soft bristle brush in a gentle circular motion,” she says. “Brush the outer surfaces of each tooth, upper and lower. Repeat the same method on the inside surfaces and chewing surfaces of all teeth. Finish by brushing the tongue to help freshen breath and remove bacteria.”
Flossing -- another important practice -- removes plaque between the teeth where a toothbrush can’t reach, Aukes-Janoscrat says, and in children it should begin when any two teeth touch.
“You may wish to floss the child’s teeth until he or she can do it alone,” she says. “Use about 18 inches of floss, winding most of it around the middle fingers of both hands.”
Aukes-Janoscrat says to hold the floss lightly between the thumbs and forefingers, and use a gentle back-and-forth motion to guide the floss between the teeth.
“Curve the floss into a C-shape and slide it into the space between the gum and tooth until you feel resistance,” she says. “Gently scrape the floss against the side of the tooth. Repeat this procedure on each tooth. Don’t forget the last four teeth. To make things easier, the pre-made flossers that are readily available these days can be used instead of standards floss.”
Just like proper brushing and flossing, healthy eating habits contribute to a healthy mouth, Aukes-Janoscrat says.
“Just like the rest of the body, the teeth, bones and the soft tissues of the mouth need a well-balanced diet,” she says. “Children should eat a variety of foods from the five major food groups.”
Most snacks children eat can lead to cavity formation, and the more frequently a child snacks, the greater the chance for tooth decay, Aukes-Janoscrat says.
“How long food remains in the mouth also plays a role,” she says. “For example, hard candy and breath mints stay in the mouth a long time, which causes longer acid attacks on tooth enamel. If your child must snack, choose nutritious foods such as vegetables, low-fat yogurt and low-fat cheese which are healthier and better for children’s teeth.”
“In our experience we have found that the single largest cause of tooth decay in children is their drinking pattern,” Aukes-Janoscrat continues. “Frequent use of soft drinks, sports drinks, sweetened ice tea or Kool-Aid spell disaster for a child’s teeth.”
Even all-natural fruit juices with high content of fructose should be limited, she says, adding water and milk are the best options. If sweetened drinks must be made, Aukes-Janoscrat recommends using Splenda, a natural carbohydrate and calorie-free sweetener made from sugar.
“We encourage children to limit sweets and sodas for a healthy smile,” she advises. “It it also recommended to limit juice to one to two four-ounce glasses a day.”
Prevention of dental problems is the No. 1 goal, Aukes-Janoscrat stresses. Neglected cavities can and frequently do lead to problems that affect developing permanent teeth.
“It is very important to maintain the health of the primary teeth,” she says. “Primary teeth, or baby teeth, are important for proper chewing and eating, providing space for the permanent teeth and guiding them into the correct position, and permitting normal development of the jaw bones and muscles.”
Primary teeth, she adds, also affect the development of speech and contribute to an attractive appearance. While the front four teeth last until age six or seven, the back teeth, including the cuspids and molars, aren’t replaced until age 10 through 13.
For more information on National Children’s Dental Health Month visit the American Dental Association by clicking HERE.