Tips to Prevent Cavities

Your child won't keep his or her first teeth forever, but that doesn't mean those tiny pearly whites don't need conscientious care. Maintaining your child's dental health now will provide health benefits well into adulthood, as primary (baby) teeth serve some extremely important functions.

Kids developing jaws and teeth.

For one thing, primary teeth serve as guides for the eruption of permanent (adult) teeth, holding the space into which these new teeth will erupt. The crowns (tops) of the permanent teeth actually push against the roots of the baby teeth, causing them to resorb, or melt away. In this way, the adult teeth can take their proper place.

What's more, your child's primary teeth will be there for most of childhood, helping your child to bite, chew and speak. For the first six or so years, he or she will be relying on primary teeth exclusively to perform these important functions. Until around age 12, your child will have a mix of primary and permanent teeth. You will want to make sure those teeth stay healthy and are lost naturally — when it's time.

Your Child's First Teeth

Kids mouth anatomy.

Your child's 20 baby teeth will begin to appear usually between six and nine months, though in some cases it may start as early as three months or as late as twelve months. The two lower front teeth tend to erupt first, followed by the two upper ones, these teeth are called the central incisors. Then the neighboring teeth called lateral incisors will erupt too. The first molars come in next, followed by the canines (eyeteeth). And finally, the last teeth to erupt are the two-year molars. Sometimes your baby can experience teething discomfort during this process. If so, there are courses of action to help make your child more comfortable.

Your infant's gums should be gently wiped after each feeding with a water-soaked gauze pad or damp washcloth. As soon as the first tooth erupts, establish a daily brushing routine with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and no more than a thin smear of fluoridated toothpaste. Your child may need your help with this important task until about the age of 6.

Your Child's First Dental Appointment

Age one dental visit

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that your child see a dentist by his/her first birthday, or as early as the first tooth erupts. Though this may sound early, learning proper pediatric oral hygiene techniques, checking for cavities, and watching for developmental problems is extremely important.

There are a number of forms of tooth decay that can affect babies and small children. Early Childhood Caries (tooth decay) can develop rapidly, progressing from the hard, outer enamel layer of a tooth into the softer, inner dentin in six months or less.

Most of all, it's important for your child to have a positive experience at the dental office as he/she will be a regular visitor for years to come.

Pediatric Dental Treatments

There are a variety of dental treatments offered to prevent tooth decay in children, or to save or repair teeth when necessary. They include:

Topical Fluoride — Fluoride incorporates into the enamel of teeth, making it harder and more resistant to decay. Although there is a small amount of fluoride in toothpastes and in some drinking water supplies, a higher concentration can be applied professionally to your child's teeth for maximum protection.

Dental Sealants — A plastic coating can be applied at the dental office to prevent cavities by sealing the little grooves on the chewing surfaces of back teeth known as “pits and fissures.” These little crevices become the perfect environments for decay-causing bacteria. Immature tooth enamel is more permeable and therefore less resistant to tooth decay. Dental sealants are easy to apply and provide years of protection (Watch Dental Sealant Video).

Root Canal Treatment — Perhaps you have had a root canal treatment yourself, to save an injured or severely decayed tooth. Well, sometimes children need root canals, too. In children these are called pulpotomies or pulpectomies. As mentioned above, baby teeth are important guides to the permanent teeth that are already forming beneath your child's gums. Therefore, saving them from premature loss can help prevent a malocclusion (“mal” – bad; “occlusion” – bite) that requires orthodontic treatment.

Bonding — Chips and minor fractures to front teeth — common childhood occurrences — can be repaired with tooth-colored bonding materials. These lifelike resins made of plastic and glass can be used on baby teeth as well as permanent teeth and last until the youngster has completed facial growth (Watch Bonding Video).

Orthodontic Concerns

Orthodontic Problems.

By around age 7, most malocclusions have become evident. Interceptive orthodontic treatment around this time can help direct proper tooth positioning and/or jaw growth, eliminating or simplifying the need for later treatment. There are many orthodontic problems that can be detected early and are examples of why a trained professional should evaluate your child during his/her growth and development.

Sports & Your Child's Teeth

If your child is active in sports, a custom-made mouthguard is a highly recommended safeguard. According to the American Dental Association, an athlete is 60 times more likely to suffer dental harm when not wearing one of these protective devices. A custom mouthguard is made specifically for your child using a model of his or her teeth. This will offer greater protection than an off-the-shelf model. It's an investment that pays off highly in the form of reduced pain, suffering — and dental expenses down the road!

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Cavities are little holes in teeth that can eventually cause big problems. They form when tooth-eroding acid attacks a tooth's protective outer covering (enamel). This acid mainly comes from two sources: your diet, and certain oral bacteria that thrive in the absence of effective oral hygiene. If cavities are not treated promptly, decay-causing bacteria can get further into the tooth, leading eventually to root-canal problems and even tooth loss. The good news is that cavities are completely preventable — meaning it is truly possible to keep all of your natural teeth for life! Here are our top three tips to keep decay away:

Brush & Floss Every Day

How to Brush Your Teeth

Cavity prevention starts with a good oral hygiene routine. This will remove dental plaque — a sticky film that harbors food particles and harmful bacteria. Flossing is particularly important because a toothbrush can't reach in between the teeth the way floss can. Make sure to floss both sides of every tooth, including the back molars, at least once each day. Brush your teeth at least twice each day, using a toothpaste that contains fluoride — a mineral that can become part of your tooth enamel and actually repair tiny cavities that are starting to form.

Pay Attention to Your Diet

Certain foods and beverages are no friends to your teeth, and soda tops the list. Soda, sports drinks, and so-called “energy drinks” are all acidic — even the sugar-free varieties. The acids they contain attack tooth enamel and make your teeth more prone to decay. Fruit juices can also be very acidic. Drinking water is much better for your dental health, not only because it has a completely neutral pH (is non-acidic), but also because it helps replenish your saliva — which has natural cavity-fighting properties. Sugary and starchy foods (cookies, candy, donuts, and chips) are also a problem — especially when they are not promptly cleaned from your mouth. They nourish the oral bacteria that cause cavities and raise the acidity level in your mouth.

See Your Dentist Regularly

Routine professional cleanings and exams are a great way to maintain excellent oral health. Your dental hygienist can clean areas of your mouth that you can't reach with your toothbrush or even with floss. We can check for early signs of tooth decay and take prompt action. What's more, we can recommend specific preventive treatments if you are particularly prone to cavities. These include in-office fluoride treatments and dental sealants, both of which are quick, easy and effective procedures. Special mouthrinses might also be recommended. Working together, we can make sure your oral hygiene routine is all it should be and that decay is kept at bay.

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