Healthy Teeth, Healthy Smiles

 The American Academy of Pediatrics identifies tooth decay as the number one dental problem among preschoolers, but it can be prevented. Starting children with good dental habits, from an early age, will help them teethgrow up with healthy teeth and smiles.

 The American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following information on how to care for your child’s teeth from birth to 24 months of age and beyond.

Tooth decay can develop as soon as the first tooth appears. It’s important to care for your child’s baby teeth because they act as placeholders for adult teeth.

If baby teeth are lost too early, the teeth that are left may move and not leave any room for the adult teeth to come in. And tooth decay in baby teeth can be painful and cause health problems like infections, which can at times be life-threatening. It can also lead to teasing and speech development problems.

  • Caring for teeth from birth to 12 months
    • Good dental habits need to begin before the first tooth appears.After feedings, gently brush your baby’s gums using water on a baby toothbrush that has soft bristles. Or wipe them with a clean washcloth.
    • Ask about fluoride. After the first tooth appears, ask your child’s doctor if your baby is getting enough fluoride. Use a just a smear of fluoride toothpaste (or an amount about the size of a grain of rice).
    • Schedule your baby’s well-child visits. During these visits your child’s doctor will check your baby’s mouth.
    • Schedule a dental checkup. If your baby is at high risk for tooth decay, your child’s doctor will recommend that your baby see a dentist.
  • Caring for teeth from 12 to 24 months
    • Brush! Brush your child’s teeth 2 times a day using water on a baby toothbrush that has soft bristles. The best times are after breakfast and before bed.
    • Limit juice. Make sure your child doesn’t drink more than 1 small cup of juice each day and only at mealtimes.
    • Consult with your child’s dentist or doctor about sucking habits. Sucking too strongly on a pacifier, a thumb, or fingers can affect the shape of the mouth and how the top and bottom teeth line up. This is called your child’s “bite.” Ask your child’s dentist or doctor to help you look for changes in your child’s bite and how to help your child ease out of his sucking habit.
    • Schedule a dental checkup. Take your child for a dental checkup if he has not had one.
  • Caring for teeth from 24 months
    • Brush! Help your child brush her teeth 2 times a day with a child-sized toothbrush that has soft bristles. There are brushes designed to address the different needs of children at all ages, ensuring that you can select a toothbrush that is appropriate for your child. Encourage her to brush her teeth on her own. However, to make sure your child’s teeth are clean, you should brush them again.
    • Use fluoride toothpaste. You can start using fluoride toothpaste, which helps prevent cavities. Since the fluoride found in toothpaste is clearly meant to be swished but not swallowed, make sure to help or watch the child while brushing. When she is old enough, tell her to spit out the toothpaste after brushing. Use a pea-sized amount or less and smear the paste into the bristles. Use a smear of fluoride toothpaste on the brush (or an amount about the size of a grain of rice).
    • Floss. You can begin flossing your child’s teeth as soon as 2 teeth touch each other. But not all children need their teeth flossed at this age, so check with your dentist first.
    • Schedule a dental checkup. Take your child for a dental checkup at least once a year.

Teeth Decay

Parents, especially if they have a history of cavities, can pass germs that cause cavities and gum disease if they share food or drinks with their children. Germs can also be spread when parents lick their children’s spoon, fork, or pacifier. This is why it is important for parents to not share food or drinks with their children.

The following are other ways parents can help prevent tooth decay in their babies and children:

  • If you put your child to bed with a bottle, fill it only with water.
  • If your child drinks from a bottle or sippy cup, make sure to fill it only with water when it’s not mealtime.
  • If your child wants a snack, offer a healthy snack like fruits or vegetables. (To avoid choking, make sure anything you give your child is soft, easy to swallow, and cut into small pieces no larger than one-half inch.) Avoid sweet or sticky snacks like candy, cookies, or Fruit Roll-Ups. There is sugar in foods like crackers and chips too. They should only be eaten at mealtime.
  • If your child is thirsty, give him water or milk. If your child drinks milk at bedtime, make sure to clean his teeth afterward. Don’t let your child sip drinks that have sugar and acid, like juices, sports drinks, flavored drinks, lemonade, soda pop, or flavored teas.

Happy, Healthy Futures Begin With Good Oral Health Habits

Oral health Foundation logoThe following post comes from Fern K. Ingber, MEd, President and CEO of the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation.

Where has the summer gone?  Back-to-school is upon us again.  Keeping children healthy is a top priority for both parents and educators.  Help your child start the school year off right by establishing positive oral health habits that will contribute to a lifetime of good health.

Pediatric dental disease, more commonly known as tooth decay, is the #1 chronic childhood disease.  It may seem absurd to you that tooth decay has reached epidemic proportions, but a 2007 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control determined that one in every five three-year-olds suffers from tooth decay.  You will be even more surprised to learn that more than 40 percent of children have tooth decay by the time they start kindergarten!

Many fail to realize that oral health is integral to overall systemic health.

The mouth is the gateway to the body and serves as a portal for nutritional intake as well as a potential site for microbial infections that can adversely affect general health status. According to the Academy of Pediatrics, lack of proper oral health care can lead to the development of rampant tooth decay, which can cause pain, infection, difficulty speaking and concentrating, malnutrition and sleep deprivation.  Not surprisingly, these factors can negatively impact a child’s growth and ability to learn.

In fact, over 51 million hours of school are missed annually due to dental disease, contributing to increased educational disparities.  In addition, untreated dental disease can contribute to low self-esteem, a key factor in a child’s quality of life and ability to succeed.  However, tooth decay is preventable as is the destruction it leaves in its wake.

Instilling good oral health habits in children is a crucial step in fighting tooth decay. A common misconception is that the primary teeth, what we often refer to as baby teeth, are not important.  Primary teeth play an important role speech development, a child’s appearance and facial structure, nutrition and ensuring that permanent teeth erupt in their normal positions. Although baby teeth are eventually replaced with permanent teeth, it is essential to keep them healthy.  Decay and infection in baby teeth can cause damage to developing permanent teeth.

Here are a few tips to help you maintain your child’s oral health and give them the building blocks they need for happy, healthy futures.

  • Invest in a new toothbrush at least every three months and after every illness to avoid lingering bacteria and germs.
  • Encourage your child to eat healthy snacks such as fruit, vegetables, cheese and yogurt.  Avoid starchy and sticky snacks that can cling to teeth and cause decay.
  • Brush and floss at least twice a day.  (Parents should supervise these activities until children are 8 or 9 years of age as most younger children do not possess the manual dexterity necessary to brush every tooth surface.)
  • Children should visit their dentist once every six months.

To learn more about how you can save children from preventable pain and eliminate the devastating effects of tooth decay, visit

Pres of Oral Health FoundationAbout Fern K. Ingber, MEdFern Ingber is founding President and CEO of the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation: America’s Toothfairy® (NCOHF), established in 2006 by a group of concerned dental professionals to address the nation’s most common chronic childhood illness – pediatric dental disease.  Under Ms. Ingber’s leadership, NCOHF has delivered over $9 million in financial and product support to affiliate nonprofit oral health programs, reaching more than 1 million children with comprehensive care.


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