Mom, do I have to brush AGAIN?

By Dr. Stephanie McGann, DMD FAGD, Columnist,

As a dentist, I am obsessive about oral hygiene, as a mom I fight the same fight as everyone else I know.  My kids are just like yours.   I’m sure my son isn’t the only kid to swear up and down he brushed his teeth but somehow the toothbrush is still dry.  Really?

February is national children’s dental health month.  So this is the official reminder to make sure all kids get regular dental examinations and preventive visits.  Taking a child to the dentist early and often is the best way to prevent dental problems and take care of concerns early.  Early visits to the office will help youngsters become accustomed to regular dental care and made dentistry stress-free and in many cases fun.

Here are some tips to help properly care for youngster’s  teeth.

When a baby’s first tooth erupts it’s important to keep it clean. The simplest way is to use a clean washcloth to wipe the tooth between your fingers.  Infants often think this is fun and will no doubt chew on the washcloth.  Equally important is to avoid prolonged contact of these early teeth to liquids containing sugars. Baby bottle tooth decay can be devastating to both the child and the parents.  So never put a baby to bed with a bottle containing anything but water.  Sugars, even the lactose (the milk sugar) can cause massive decay on young erupting teeth.

Check with your dentist to find out when he or she usually starts seeing youngsters for preventive visits. Any mark or concern on an erupting baby tooth should be evaluated by dentist or pedodontist (dentist specializing in children’s care) without delay.

Parents need to play an active role in the daily brushing and flossing of children’s teeth. First, lead by example, let your children see you brush and floss.  Then use a soft child-size brush to brush those early teeth  twice a day. Prior to age 2 use only water or an infant toothpaste.  At age 2 it is time to start using a toothpaste formulated for children.  Most 2 year olds want to “do it themselves”  and they should.  However, parents must also brush toddler’s teeth since they cannot yet do an adequate job.   Take turns so everyone gets a turn and every tooth gets brushed.

Thumb sucking and pacifiers can be hazardous to your child’s smile.  In some cases the forces of prolonged thumb or pacifier use (even the “orthodontic” varieties) can cause the bones of the face to reform around the thumb or pacifier causing an unsightly open bite condition. It is important to try to stop a sucking habit early so that the body has time to correct some of the changes in growth patterns.

By age 3 it is imperative that children be seen by a dentist twice a year for dental exams, cleanings and fluoride treatments.  During these visits the dentist and hygienists can identify areas that need more attention. The dental team will look for areas of decay, check on appropriate growth and development of the permanent teeth and apply fluoride to reduce the risk of tooth decay.

Encourage children to drink water.

Healthy eating is important.  Teeth grow strong and healthy with good nutrition.   Dental decay can be attributed to a diet that contains too much sticky sugar.  Sugar gets the blame but the truth is It’s not how much sugar you eat, it’s how long it’s in your mouth. Dentally speaking, all sugar is not created equal.

The lifesaver story –  A roll of lifesavers candy – if a single piece of candy is slowly dissolved in the mouth, and 30 minutes later another and then another over the course of a day the  teeth have been bathed in sugar all day.  This long term contact with sugar is much more likely to cause tooth decay than a relatively short burst of sugar. So from a dental perspective it is better to eat the whole roll of candy at one time or drink a sugary drink all at one time instead of sipping it all day.   So for the all day sippers and suckers, do yourself a favor and find a sugar free substitute.

We want all of our children to grow up cavity free.  It’s up to us as parents to help our children make wise choices.   Always ask your dental professional what will work best for your child.

Dr. Stephanie McGann is a resident of the Unionville area and along with her partner, Dr. Marie Scott, operates The Brandywine Smile Center, a family-friendly dental practice in Concordville. She is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.

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