Many parents don’t realize the importance of dental health for babies, toddlers, and young children. Mistakenly, some folks wait until their children have permanent teeth or experience pain before consulting a dentist. Yet, there are many precautions parents of newborns and toddlers ought to take to prevent tooth decay and other dental mishaps down the road. Below are eleven tips, provided by two New York University trained dentists. One of them, Dr. Heather Hoffman, is a pediatric dentist, working in Maryland and the other, Dr. Mohamed Abdelhakim, is in his second year of residency in the Oral Maxillofacial Surgery program at Washington Hospital in DC.

  1. Never let children go to bed with any sort of drink other than water.
  2. Visit a pediatric dentist after eruption of first tooth or by age one.
  3. Children should drink tap water rather than bottled water if the tap water is fluoridated. Filtered water is all right to consume because filtering does not remove fluoride.
  4. Avoid juices. Not only do they contain sugar but they’re also acidic.
  5. Grinding teeth is normal in small children. It’s cyclic.
  6. Avoid brushing teeth immediately after drinking juice or soda because those drinks are acidic and the brushing will abrade the teeth. Wait a half hour.
  7. In general, a good habit is to drink water after having consumed juice, soda, or food. Drinking water immediately afterwards can help cleanse the teeth. Furthermore, this is a good practice if a child vomits. A parent should avoid brushing a child’s teeth immediately afterwards as the teeth are also weakened from vomiting.  Give saliva a chance to buffer the pH of the oral environment.  Saliva is a natural way of fighting tooth decay.
  8. Chew sugarless gum. It helps reduce acidity of the mouth. Chew for 5-10 minutes after meals. Chewing longer than that may cause TMJ parafunctional habit. There’s no benefit in chewing gum longer than a short while because of the stress chewing puts on the jaw.  Sugar-free, non-acidic snacks help stimulate salivary flow providing restored protection.
  9. Be wary allowing small children around dogs. Dr. Abdelhakim warns:” Dog bites to the face can have long term devastating effects on a child. Certain dogs, like pit bulls, labs, and Chihuahuas bite children; that’s been my experience. Besides scarring, a bite can cause facial deformity and have an associated psychological impact.” Because he has seen and repaired dog bites, Dr. Abdelhakim advises parents if they truly want a pet, to bring a dog home only after having a baby so the dog doesn’t get jealous of the new arrival. He also says: “Between ages two to five, kids stick their faces in the dogs’ faces.”  The consequences can be heart-wrenching.
  10. When a youth reaches the age of 16, it’s recommended he/she see an oral surgeon for evaluation of wisdom teeth. Literature shows that early removal of wisdom teeth is associated with faster healing and fewer complications. “From my personal experience, “Dr. Abdelhakim adds, “I recommend that African-American children should see an oral surgeon at the age of 14 or 15 because they have stronger bones and their wisdom teeth are more developed and more difficult to remove with age.”
  11. Some parents become concerned because they compare their kids’ tooth development with friends‘ kids’ tooth development and worry if their children aren’t getting teeth as fast as their neighbor’s kid the same age. Yet, there’s a range of times when teeth erupt. For instance, a black female is going to erupt teeth first and an Asian male will be the last. The usual time for kids to get permanent teeth (molars) is about age six, but a black female may get them at age five and an Asian male may get them at age seven.
  12. If your child can expectorate mouthwash without swallowing any, have them use a fluoridated mouthwash at bedtime. If this is used, avoid rinsing with water or drinking anything afterwards for maximum protection of the teeth while they sleep (when salivary levels drop). This can restore some of the damage that sugary snacks or fermentable carbohydrates caused during the day.

A common misconception is that baby teeth don’t need to be cared for because they’ll fall out anyway, but baby teeth are important!  Aside from wanting to avoid pain, baby teeth serve as space holders for adult dentition.  Not everyone will develop all 32 permanent teeth, and sometimes it’s helpful to have over-retained healthy baby teeth to keep a smile symmetrical and to preserve bone.   Having a high caries rate in primary dentition means having a high bacterial load of caries causing bacteria which is difficult to lower.  If such bacteria thrive in the child’s mouth, they can attack permanent teeth too when they come in.

Performing dentistry on a child can be difficult for the child; therefore, the best thing is for the child to remain cavity-free!  It’s important to see a dentist regularly so that a parent can be warned when early signs of tooth decay appear so habit change may occur before too much damage is done.

Everyone wants his teeth to last a lifetime and some of that depends on what parents do for their kids in the way of oral health when their children are too young to do it for themselves. One of the best things you can give a person is your smile. Let’s bestow kids with the opportunity of sporting a healthy smile with which they’ll dazzle the world!