Safeguard Your Child’s Dental Health

Each February, the American Dental Association (ADA) celebrates National Children’s Dental Health Month. The theme for 2022 is “Sealants Make Sense.” But before we talk about sealants, let’s review some basic strategies for safeguarding your child’s dental health.

Your child’s primary – or baby – teeth begin to form during the second trimester of pregnancy. This is the time from week 13 to week 28, or months four, five and six of pregnancy. To help ensure that your child develops healthy teeth, practice good oral hygiene during your pregnancy. Brush twice a day and floss daily. Also, visit a dentist before you deliver your baby.

Most children have 20 baby teeth, which typically begin to come in at around 6 months of age. It is important to protect these teeth because they maintain the proper spacing in the mouth for the permanent – or adult – teeth. Baby teeth generally begin to loosen and fall out when your child is about 6 years old. A full set of 32 adult teeth is usually in place by the time your child is in his or her teens.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that cavities are one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood in the US. Cavities, which result from tooth decay, are permanent damage to a tooth’s enamel, the tough outer shell, that develops into holes. Untreated cavities can cause pain and infection and can lead to tooth loss.

To prevent cavities and safeguard your child’s dental health, begin good dental care before the first baby teeth come in. Wipe your child’s gums with a soft, clean cloth after feedings and before bed. If your baby has teeth, brush them twice a day with a soft-bristled infant toothbrush and plain water. If your child has teeth that touch, gently floss in between them.

Visit the dentist by your baby’s first birthday so the dentist can detect any potential issues with your child’s teeth early on. Consider visiting a pediatric dentist, who is specially trained to deal with children and their dental problems. Get your child regular dental check-ups. This helps your child grow comfortable with visiting the dentist and maintains good oral health.

Children should brush their teeth twice a day with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Supervise your child’s brushing until he or she is 7 or 8 years old or until he or she learns to spit out the toothpaste and not swallow it. If your older child participates in sports, he or she should wear a mouth guard to protect the teeth from injury.

Fluoride is a mineral that strengthens the enamel and helps make your child’s teeth more resistant to the bacteria that cause tooth decay. Many US cities put fluoride in their water. If your city doesn’t fluoridate its water, ask the dentist about fluoride supplements for your child.

Your dentist may recommend placing a sealant on your child’s teeth, particularly the molars in the back of the mouth that bear the brunt of chewing. Bits of food can get lodged in these teeth and be hard to remove with brushing and flossing. Food that remains on the teeth can cause more bacteria to grow, which can lead to tooth decay.

A sealant is a thin, protective coating made of plastic or another dental material that adheres to the rough chewing surfaces of the premolars and molars and helps protect them from cavity-causing bacteria. According to the ADA, sealants have been shown to reduce the risk of tooth decay in molars by nearly 80 percent. Ask your dentist if he or she recommends a sealant for your child’s teeth.

Sealants can protect the teeth from decay for up to 10 years. Visit the dentist regularly so he or she can check your child’s sealant for any chipping or wearing. Sealants can be reapplied as necessary.

Healthy teeth are important for your child’s overall health. Poor oral health can lead to infection, disease or other teeth problems. Problems associated with poor dental health include heart disease, respiratory disorders and even cancer. So, teach your children to practice good oral hygiene for strong teeth and good health for a lifetime.

Authors:

Patti Dipanfilo

About Patti Dipanfilo

Patti DiPanfilo, Staff Writer for Florida Health Care News, has been a health care writer and editor for close to 25 years. She is a graduate of Gannon University In Erie, Pa, and is experienced in both marketing and educational writing. She joined Florida Health Care News in 2013.

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