Cavities are one of the leading dental concerns for children and teenagers. They are painful and can lead to lasting consequences, even in very young children who do not have their permanent teeth yet.
Although getting kids to brush and floss can be challenging, children who learn how to take care of their teeth and gums early in life will not only have fewer cavities, but will also develop good healthcare behaviors that they can take into adulthood.
Why is it important to prevent cavities?
Cavities are small holes in the hard surface of the tooth. These holes are permanent, and they can be painful as the damage gets worse. Left untreated, cavities can develop into severe pain, infection, and even tooth loss.
What are the best ways to prevent cavities?
Cavities are created by a combination of factors, including mouth bacteria, not taking proper care of your teeth, and sipping and snacking throughout the day. Addressing these issues in children will help to prevent tooth decay.
#1. Clean your teeth well, by brushing and flossing
Children and adults should brush at least twice a day, ideally after every meal. Use a toothpaste with fluoride, and encourage your kids to floss at least once a day.
When brushing, teach your child to gently brush with short, circular motions. Make sure to brush the front, back, and chewing surfaces of your teeth, as well as your tongue.
Children should begin to floss as soon as they have two teeth that touch together. Parents can do this for their children, until they are old enough to learn how. Most children can begin to floss for themselves at around age 6 or 7.
Many children have a hard time learning to hold the floss at first. As an alternative to traditional floss, dental floss picks are easier to use, and can help build confidence flossing at a younger age.
If your child is prone to cavities, a fluoride mouth rinse is an easy, extra step after brushing, that can also help prevent tooth decay. Alternately, your child’s dentist can apply a long-lasting fluoride treatment during a regular appointment.
#2. Avoid snacking and sipping throughout the day
Sugary drinks, such as fruit juice and soda, are among the biggest causes of tooth decay in children, especially if the sugar is allowed to sit on the tooth for a long time before cleaning.
Drinking liquids other than water gives mouth bacteria a chance to grow. Sipping constantly throughout the day never gives your teeth a chance to recover.
For infants, bottle feeding with milk or fruit juice right before bedtime can create a similar issue. The residue will stay on the baby’s teeth for several hours, and can lead to tooth decay.
#3. Eat tooth-healthy foods
Some foods are healthier for our teeth than others. Foods like popcorn that get stuck in the pits and grooves of your child’s teeth should be removed quickly by brushing and flossing.
Other foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, can stimulate saliva production and help wash away bacteria. When it is not possible to brush immediately, sugar free gum can also help remove stray pieces of food.
#4. Drink some tap water
Most tap water in the United States contains a small amount of fluoride. It was added to help prevent childhood tooth decay, and has been an effective program to reduce cavities. Kids who only drink bottled water miss out on these benefits.
#5. Get excited about dental health
To encourage your children to practice good dental health, make it a family activity. Floss together, and show your child how to brush properly if they are having difficulty.
A reward system, such as giving your child a sticker when they floss, can also be an easy way to create incentives and positive reinforcement.
Teaching children to practice good oral hygiene through brushing and flossing can be a challenge. However, it is important to form good habits early.
Choose a pediatric dentist that relates well with your child and is eager to build a relationship of trust. Going to the dentist should never be scary, so it is worth making sure that your child’s dentist is the right “fit” with their personality.