Dental decay is the most common chronic medical condition in children across the United States. In fact, it is estimated that nearly a quarter of children younger than 5 years old have cavities, increasing the role pediatricians play in preventive oral health.
"As bacteria break down sugars or food debris, they produce acid on the surface of the teeth," said Dr. Amy Amin, a pediatrician at CareMount Medical. "This in turn can lead to destruction of the enamel." To stem this decay, Amin recommends following three key steps for a healthy mouth: cleaning teeth regularly, maintaining a low-sugar diet and ensuring an adequate intake of fluoride on a daily basis. "Parents can combine these interventions to reduce plaque producing bacteria and the incidence of caries in their children," she said.
To help ensure your child's teeth are healthy and growing, Amin shared her checklist for proper oral hygiene:
Routine Teeth Cleaning
- For infants, wipe gums with a wet washcloth after feeding.
- When the first tooth emerges, start brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush, continuing for two minutes.
- For children under 3 years old, use a rice grain-sized smear of fluoride toothpaste twice a day.
- For children 3-6 years old, use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste twice a day.
- Be careful with dried fruits, gummy vitamins and other sticky foods.
- Brush teeth thoroughly, since foods can stick to the grooves. The direction of the brushing isn't important.
- Avoid giving children bottles of milk or juice immediately before naps or bedtime.
- Incorporate foods high in calcium and vitamin D twice daily to help strengthen teeth.
- Check if your water source is fluoridated. If not, talk to your pediatrician about fluoride supplementation.
- Parents can also talk to their child's dentist about sealants, which can help protect against decay.
"Dentists will ensure the teeth are developing normally with no signs of early decay," said Amin. "Parents can also enforce twice-daily tooth brushing to significantly reduce the incidence of early caries. A primary prevention approach will help maintain the wellbeing of all children."
For more information on proper oral hygiene, click here.