Between watching commercials and reading the latest parenting articles, it can seem impossible to keep your kids cavity-free. With so many techniques and gadgets, nothing less than a 20-step morning and night time oral health routine seems like enough. Your child is unique: choosing the best fit for your family can take the confusion out of cavity prevention!
Help your teeth by eating a balanced diet.
Just like it’s almost impossible to exercise off a diet full of junk food, a few minutes a day cannot offset constant exposure to sugar. Almost anytime a dentist finds cavities on the smooth surfaces or between teeth, a beverage is to blame. If you choose to have sugary drinks like soda, juice, or sweetened tea in your child’s diet, limit to a small amount with mealtime. Water is best!
Next, look for sugary foods that your child eats often. Teeth are in the cavity zone for 20-30 minutes after eating sweets: that can add up to hours of cavity formation time daily. Limit the amount of sweets your child eats and keep it to one sitting. Remember that sticky sweets stay a lot longer in the grooves.
Brushing isn’t just for cleaning teeth.
Removing plaque from the teeth is important for gum health and fresh breath, but the real benefit of toothbrushing is application of fluoride toothpaste. Your child should use the right amount of toothpaste for their age, which is a grain of rice-sized smear for infants and a pea-sized amount for toddlers and young children. Fluoride helps rebuild tooth structure and can even reverse early cavities.
At night, make sure you brush, have your child spit, and then do not rinse. The fluoride needs to stay on the teeth through the night to be effective!
If your child is older, gets cavities easily, takes medicines that cause dry mouth, or wears braces or headgear, ask your dentist if a prescription toothpaste with higher amounts of fluoride is right for them.
The best toothbrush is the one you use.
There are many toothbrushes on the market because everyone has different needs. Most children cannot brush their teeth independently until they are 9-11 years old. Some children will always need help brushing their teeth due to motor skills and others will always need help getting motivated. The best toothbrush is the one that works for the parent/child team.
Younger babies do well with a very soft toothbrush that parents can use to clean the back teeth by the cheeks – remember to lift the lip to get near the gums of front teeth. Toddlers and preschoolers who still need someone to brush after them benefit from a toothbrush with a large handle. Older children may enjoy an electric toothbrush that has a built in timer and does not require them to move their hand as much so they can multitask.
Floss after you master the basics.
Flossing helps with gum health, especially as we get older. For many parents and patients, flossing is also the most difficult task and they give up on it altogether because they can’t do it regularly. If your child has space between their teeth, it is unlikely they will get cavities in between the teeth unless they have a terrible diet. Once the teeth start to touch, you can try flossing but don’t feel defeated if it’s a struggle for your little one. Give most of your attention to your child’s diet, and brushing with fluoride toothpaste. Plastic flossers may make it easier for younger kids.
When your child gets closer to puberty, ask for a flossing demonstration at your dentist’s office to help them learn the right skills. Teenagers with braces can use floss threaders or special floss with plastic ends.
You can be cavity-free with as little as glass of water, a toothbrush, and fluoride toothpaste! There is no magic bullet that replaces daily oral hygiene. Focus on the basics and then add the extras that are a good fit for your family!
Janice A. Townsend, DDS, MS, is the chief of Pediatric Dentistry at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the chair of the Division of Pediatric Dentistry at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry.
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