Erin Westfall, D.O.
Family Medicine, Prenatal Care
Dental infections are one of the most common infections in children. Even though dentistry has come a long way with the latest dental advancements, you still have to play an active role in your dental care — and your child’s. Oral health is whole-person health, and untreated dental disease has been linked to stroke, heart disease and diabetes in adulthood.
Dental caries — otherwise known as tooth decay or cavities — affect many children and adults, although they largely are preventable through good dental health habits and a number of measures that have proven effective.
Start dental health early
By 6 months of age, we recommend babies stop consuming breast milk or formula during the night, and never have bottles in their beds so they don’t develop the habit. Late-night nursing increases the risk of tooth decay due to lactose, which is a milk sugar. In general, the more carbohydrates a child consumes, the greater risk for cavities.
Every child should have access to dental health care by age 1 and be seen every 3 to 6 months. Dental care is different for each family, and could include a pediatric dentist; Women, Infants and Children (WIC) clinics; and even your doctor’s office. Fluoride varnish can be applied to your child’s teeth at their annual wellness exam. This topical fluoride can prevent and even reverse early cavities.
There are several healthy habits you can establish with your child when he or she is young. By the age of 6 months, children should have fluoride in their water, and children of brushing age should use soft brushes and fluoridated toothpaste. If you don’t have access to fluoridated water, your health care provider can recommend a source of fluoride, including nursery water or fluoride drops/tablets.
Children need supervision with brushing at least halfway through grade school. Parents should always supervise. You can stop supervision when you think your child is doing as good of a job as you would. Brushing two times a day is usually enough, and children should begin flossing as soon as your dentist recommends it.
Eat a diet that promotes healthy teeth
Any food or drinks with sugar in them increase your child’s risk for cavities. Enjoy the natural sweetness of fruit — that’s all they need for sweets. Avoid soda pop and frequent snacking. Not only do they increase the risk of obesity, but the combination of sugar and acid breaks down teeth. The same goes for juice. Juice is just a form of soda pop without carbonation.
Print and share the infographic on this page for more information on keeping children’s teeth healthy.