Tooth decay remains the most common chronic disease in children, despite the fact that it’s entirely preventable. A recent national survey by the American Ad Council found that girl-smiling75 percent of parents admit their kids forget to brush frequently. The survey also reports that kids miss more than 51 million school hours every year due to dental-related illness. Parents said their children’s oral health was a low priority, compared to things like nutrition, flu season and school safety.

But, oral health has a direct correlation to overall health, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. That certainly makes encouraging children to brush for two minutes, twice a day a priority! February is Children’s Dental Health Month, which makes it an ideal time to discuss how to help children develop a lifetime of healthy oral habits.

Prevention is the best medicine

Children should visit the dentist as soon as the first tooth erupts, or by age 1. At age 2, start using a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste to brush your child’s teeth. Fluoride is the best defense against tooth decay and can even repair tiny areas of decay before they become cavities. If your water isn’t fluoridated, we can prescribe it in a gel, mouthwash or tablet.

The truth about pacifiers and thumb sucking

Infants and toddlers sucking their thumb, fingers or a pacifier is perfectly normal. Most kids give up these habits by age 4, with no harm done to their teeth. For children who continue beyond age 4, it’s important to notify us, so we can watch carefully for any problems as the teeth develop. In most children, there isn’t a need to worry about sucking habits until around age 6, when the permanent front teeth come in. Beyond age 6, these habits can be detrimental to the development of the teeth and jaw, resulting in crooked teeth, an incorrect bite, speech problems or open-mouth breathing.

Thumb-suckingYou can help kids break these habits early on by encouraging thumb and finger suckers to switch to a properly-designed pacifier that fits the shape of the mouth. Pacifiers are less likely to create the same developmental problems, because they distribute force over a greater area, and are likely to be discarded by the child at an earlier age.

When kids suck their thumb or fingers during the day, discuss the issue with them to discourage the habit. Band-aids placed over the thumb or fingers as a reminder not to suck can help. Being positive, praising kids when they keep themselves from sucking and rewarding them for success can all go a long way. Obviously, it’s more challenging to control thumb and finger sucking during the night, especially when the child does it involuntarily. Before the child goes to bed, wrap a 2-inch wide ace bandage lightly around the fully extended (straight) arm. Start about 3 inches from the armpit and continue down past the elbow. While this won’t prevent the child from putting the thumb in the mouth while awake, as soon as he or she falls asleep, the tension created by bending the elbow will gently pull the thumb from the mouth. After about two weeks, this technique has often helped children break the nighttime sucking habit.

Be wary of sippy cups  

While many parents are now better educated about the potential oral health damage that can be caused by children going to bed with a bottle, you may not know that sippy cups can cause the same problems. A child’s teeth are immersed in the liquid while drinking from a sippy cup, so any sweet beverages in a sippy cup, including milk and juice, can cause damage.

Instead, use the sippy cup as a transition to a regular cup with no lid. While unlimited access to water in a sippy cup is OK, limit milk or juice in a sippy cup only to mealtimes. Consider a pop-up straw instead of a traditional sippy cut, as the straw reduces the amount of time the liquid is in contact with the teeth.

Practice makes perfect

Teeth Brushing Chart

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Assist your child in brushing his or her teeth until ages 6 to 8. Some good indicators that your child can correctly manipulate a toothbrush are the ability to button a shirt, write in cursive and tie shoes. A brushing chart is a great tool to remind your child to brush twice a day, for two minutes at a time.

Smart snacking promotes oral health

Teaching kids the importance of good nutrition makes a positive impact on both their overall health and their oral health. To avoid cavities, limit sweet snacks and drinks between meals and cut down on the number of snacks per day. Teeth-friendly snacks that don’t promote decay include things like fruit, vegetables, pretzels, nuts, cheese and crackers.

Consuming sugary foods with a meal or for dessert has a less detrimental effect because increase saliva during meals helps wash the food away. It’s also best for kids to eat sweets at a time and place that allows them to brush soon afterward.

Be smart about your child’s juice consumption, which can be a major factor in tooth decay. Stick to 100 percent fruit juice, keep your child’s consumption only to mealtimes and dilute it 1 part juice to 10 parts water. Always serve it in a cup – not bottle – and preferably with a straw. Babies under 6 months of age should not have juice, those ages 6 months to 6 years should be limited to 4 to 6 ounces per day and those 7 and older to 8 to 12 ounces.

Like juice, the sugar in sweetened soda can cause cavities, and acidic flavor additives in sweetened and unsweetened varieties alike can erode and damage tooth enamel. In addition to decreasing soda consumption, drinking it with a straw cuts down on contact with teeth.

Does my child need dental sealants?

Even when kids brush and floss carefully, they are susceptible to decay in their hard-to-reach molars. Dental sealants are a thin plastic film that forms an impenetrable barrier on the surface of the teeth and provide an extra layer of protection. The teeth most at risk for decay, and most in need of dental sealants, are the 6-year and 12-year molars.

When to consider orthodontics

The American Association of Orthodontics recommends a child first be seen by an orthodontist as early as age 7, or earlier if we discover a problem. Many progressive treatments are now available for patients 6 to 11 years old that provide significant benefits, especially in jaw irregularities. These treatments may also prevent certain conditions from worsening. Treating children during their growth stages can lead to results that may not be possible when the face and jaw bones have fully developed. Early diagnosis and treatment by an orthodontist can help guide facial growth and tooth eruption, preventing more serious problems from developing.


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Protecting permanent teeth

If your child plays contact sports, we can custom-fit a mouth guard, or you can purchase one at a sporting goods store. If a permanent tooth chips or breaks, fast action can save the tooth, prevent infection and reduce the need for extensive dental treatment. If a permanent tooth falls out, immediately bring the child (and the tooth, if you can find it), in to see us.

Getting wise about wisdom teeth

Wisdom teeth usually appear in the late teens or early twenties, but often problems develop that require wisdom teeth removal. When the jaw isn’t large enough to accommodate wisdom teeth, children and teens can experience impacted wisdom teeth that can grow sideways, only partially emerge or remain trapped beneath the gum or bone.

Wisdom teeth removal is recommended when the teeth only partially erupt, as this leaves an opening for bacteria to enter around the tooth and cause infection and wisdom teeth pain; there is a chance the poorly aligned wisdom teeth will damage adjacent teeth; or a cyst forms, destroying surrounding bone or tooth roots.

As a general rule, wisdom teeth are removed in the late teens or early twenties because there is a greater chance that the teeth’s roots have not fully formed, and the bone surrounding the teeth is less dense, both of which can make wisdom teeth removal easier.

At Caffaratti Dental Group, we monitor your child’s regular x-rays to look for signs of wisdom teeth pain and problems. If we determine your child or teen requires wisdom teeth removal, we have the capability to take 3D images in our office and then determine what type of surgery and sedation will be best for your child.

Schedule appointments for your whole family today

We know your time is valuable, and with one phone call you can schedule appointments for all of your family members at Caffaratti Dental Group at the same time, saving you time in driving to various locations. Give us a call today at (775) 204-2532.