Preventative dental care is important throughout life, especially at a young age. By establishing good habits early practicing good oral hygiene at home and scheduling regular dental checkups with the dentist, your child can help keep their smile bright and healthy for many years to come.
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend that your child sees a dentist twice per year for a dental checkup and cleaning. Baby teeth are at risk for plaque and tartar just like adult teeth. If the plaque and tartar are not removed from the teeth, they can cause bad breath and bleeding swollen gums which leads to periodontal disease. At your child’s checkup visit, our team will gently remove any plaque and tartar, polish, and floss the teeth. We will examine your child’s teeth and soft tissues, and evaluate their growth and development. We may recommend digital x-rays to help us detect any conditions that are not visible during the exam, or further diagnose any issues we have visually identified. Your child may have a fluoride treatment at the end of the cleaning visit, to help their teeth stay strong!
Fluoride is a naturally occurring element, which has been shown to prevent tooth decay by as much as 50-70%. Despite the advantages, too little or too much fluoride can be detrimental to the teeth. With little or no fluoride, the teeth aren’t strengthened to help them resist cavities. Excessive fluoride ingestion can lead to dental fluorosis, which is typically a chalky white discoloration of the permanent teeth. At your child’s preventative checkup visit, we will discuss your current fluoride usage, including both topical in the form of toothpaste/rinses, etc., and any water fluoridation/systemic fluoride. Be sure to follow your pediatric dentist’s instructions on the suggested use of fluoride use and possible supplements, if needed.
Proper usage of topical fluoride in ADA-approved, over-the-counter fluoride toothpaste is a very safe, and effective way to reduce cavities. The use of fluoridated toothpaste is recommended per AAPD guidelines, for ALL children at the start of tooth eruption, regardless of caries risk.
Fluoride toothpaste for children
For children younger than 3 years, parents and caregivers should begin brushing children’s teeth as soon as they begin to come into the mouth by using fluoride toothpaste in an amount no more than a smear or the size of a grain of rice.
For children, 3 to 6 years of age, parents, and caregivers should dispense no more than a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
Teeth should be brushed thoroughly twice a day (morning and night) or as directed by a dentist or physician. Children’s brushing should be supervised to ensure that they use the appropriate amount of toothpaste.
Fluoride rinses/mouthwashes are not recommended until at least age 6, or when your child can safely swish and spit the rinse, so as not to ingest the fluoride rinse.
Our team typically applies a professional fluoride treatment at child’s twice-yearly preventative dental checkup visits.
- Starting at birth, clean your child’s gums with a soft cloth and water.
- As soon as your child’s teeth erupt, brush them with a soft-bristled toothbrush twice daily, once in the morning and once at night. The most important time to brush is right before bedtime. Using ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste is safe and most effective for reducing cavities. See our chart above for the proper amount.
- Flossing removes plaque between the teeth and under the gumline where the toothbrush can’t reach. If you only brush and don’t floss, around 40% of the mouth is still dirty!
- Flossing should be started as soon as two teeth touch in some children with tight and/or crowded teeth, this is in infancy!
- An adult should be brushing for the child until they show the proper dexterity and technique to effectively clean their teeth, typically around 7-8 years old. After this time, it is still important for an adult to oversee their child’s dental hygiene. Flossing takes more dexterity and therefore many children are not able to effectively floss their own teeth until 10-11 years old.
- Healthy eating habits lead to healthy teeth. Like the rest of the body, the teeth bones, and soft tissues of the mouth need a well-balanced diet. Children should eat a variety of foods from the five major food groups.
- Many high-carbohydrate and “convenient” on-the-go snacks lead to cavity formation. Be sure to check the nutrition labels of packaged foods. 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar.
- The more frequent a child snacks, the greater the chance for tooth decay.
- The longer the food remains in the mouth also increases the cavity-causing potential. For example, sticky fruit snacks and granola bars are retained on the teeth for a prolonged period, which causes longer acid attacks on tooth enamel.
- The same goes for “sipping” liquids other than water frequently throughout the day. Limit juice to less than 6 oz. per day. Water is ideal for hydration, and is safe for teeth!
- If your child is a picky eater and has a tendency to snack, choose nutritious foods such as vegetables and cheese, which are healthier for their teeth.
Dental Radiographs (X-Rays)
Radiographs are a vital and necessary part of your child’s dental diagnostic process. Without them, cavities, and certain other dental conditions can and will be missed. Radiographs detect much more than cavities. They are needed to survey erupting teeth, diagnose bone diseases, evaluate an injury, or plan orthodontic treatment. They allow dentists to diagnose and treat health conditions that cannot be visually detected during a clinical examination. If dental problems are found and treated early, dental care is less invasive, more comfortable for your child, and more affordable for you.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends cavity-detecting radiographs every six to twelve months for most children. Our doctors will assess your child’s individual needs according to their caries risk and exam findings.
Pediatric dentists are particularly careful to minimize the exposure of their patients to radiation. With contemporary safeguards and technology, the amount of radiation received in a dental x-ray is extremely small. Lead thyroid collars/shields are most important and recommended for our growing patients, to help protect your child. Today’s equipment filters out an unnecessary x-ray and restricts the beam to areas of interest. The high-speed digital film also helps to ensure that your child receives a minimal amount of radiation exposure.
A sealant is a protective coating that is applied to the chewing surfaces (grooves) and deep anatomy (pits and fissures), typically on the permanent molar teeth. This sealant acts as a barrier to food, plaque, and acid, thus protecting these more vulnerable areas of the teeth. Our doctors will evaluate your child for their particular risk for cavities in these areas, and whether sealants would be indicated.
Cariology Visits/ "Starfish" Checks
Cariology Visits, or “Starfish Checks” as we like to call them at our office, are a dental visit for children that have a need to visit the office more frequently to become acclimated to the dental environment and/or to monitor their dental health/disease more closely. These visits are in between the six-month dental checkups recommended for most patients.
Who needs a cariology visit?
-high cavity risk child, showing early signs of cavities starting to develop
-pre-cavitated or early cavity we would like to monitor closely (In children’s teeth, these areas can change or progress in a matter of weeks and certainly months)
-sensitive/anxious child, or special needs child that would benefit from more frequent visits to the dental environment for desensitization and familiarity/routine
-child that needs a break from a dental restorative visit-fun, easy, rewarding visit (not every trip to office is a fixing visit)
What happens at a cariology visit?
-light dental cleaning
-examination by a dentist
-fluoride application when appropriate (fluoride varnish or if recommended/discussed possible silver diamine fluoride to help stop cavities from progressing)
-working towards goals established at previous checkup/cariology visits (for example: sitting in dental chair, using tooth polisher, taking x-rays)
-building CONFIDENCE and having a POSITIVE EXPERIENCE!