Most American caregivers don’t realize that cavities are nearly 100 percent preventable, according to a survey of American children’s oral health by Delta Dental Plans Association (DDPA).1 Tooth decay can develop any time after the teeth erupt into the mouth starting at about 6 months of age. So, it’s important to establish good oral health habits from birth to ward off cavity-causing bacteria.
Caregivers might think that caring for their child’s baby teeth is unimportant because they will eventually fall out. But baby teeth help children chew and speak properly, and hold space for permanent teeth. If a child has healthy baby teeth, chances are he or she will have healthy adult teeth, too.
Before the first tooth erupts, caregivers should wipe their baby’s gums with a damp washcloth or soft infant toothbrush after meals to help keep bacteria levels low and maintain a clean home for new teeth. According to the survey, while almost three-quarters of Americans (72 percent) knew that it’s important to clean a baby’s gums with a soft cloth before the teeth surface, 28 percent reported never actually cleaning their baby’s gums.
Nearly one out of five caregivers (17 percent) with a child 4 years old or younger report that he or she goes to bed every night with a bottle or sippy cup containing milk or juice. It’s a mistake to put a child to bed with a bottle of milk, juice, sweetened water or soda, however, because the frequent exposure to sugar can lead to severe tooth decay – often called baby bottle decay. Instead, caregivers should fill the bottle with water.
Here are some additional steps you can take to ensure your little one has a healthy smile through childhood and into adulthood.
Avoid sharing toothbrushes, bottles, spoons and straws to protect your baby from the transfer of cavity-causing bacteria.
As soon as the first tooth erupts, begin brushing with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush or wipe with a soft wash cloth and water at least once a day, preferably before bedtime. Once any two of your child’s teeth are touching, it’s time to start flossing once a day.
Within six months of getting the first tooth – and no later than the first birthday – your baby should have his or her first dental visit.
By the time your child is 2 (or by the time he or she can spit), start using a pea-sized dab or smear of fluoride toothpaste. Train your child to spit out the toothpaste and rinse afterward and help your child brush properly twice a day.
You should help brush and floss (or at least supervise) until age 9 or until your child can properly care for his or her teeth alone.