As a parent or guardian of a young child, you want what’s best for him. This means that he has to eat his broccoli (“It tastes gross!”), play outside (“But it’s so hot!”), and read daily (“There aren’t even any pictures!”)
But for all of your careful guidance, problems can still develop—including dental problems. Among the most common dental ailments are cavities. You may not be able to prevent them altogether, but, fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to minimize their development.
Watch for Symptoms
Children might be experiencing some of the adverse side effects that come along with cavities, but they might not be able to express themselves well to you. You will need to be on the lookout for some signs that your child may have a cavity. These signs include:
- Sensitivity to hot/cold/sweet
- White spots on teeth showing that the enamel is breaking down
- Light brown, dark brown, or black spots on teeth
- Pain in the mouth
If your child is showing any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your preferred dentist at your earliest convenience.
Taking children to the dentist can literally be like pulling teeth. As colorful and fun as a pediatric dentist’s office may be, all of the new sights, sounds, and sensations can be overwhelming for even the bravest child. Though children should go to the dentist at least every six months for routine checkups, preventing cavities in the first place is the best way to make routine dental visits palatable. The following suggestions can help you stop cavities before they even start.
Drinking a lot of water – at least eight cups per day – is a fantastic way to help your child steer clear of cavities. Staying properly hydrated helps prevent dry mouth, a condition where the mouth doesn’t have enough saliva to wash away bad bacteria. When there is an excessive amount of this bacteria, your child is more susceptible to cavities and bad breath.
Brush, Brush, Brush
Start brushing your child’s teeth and gums as soon as teeth appear (yes, that means you should brush even if there is just one tooth smack dab in the middle of her bottom gums). Pay particular attention to the back teeth because bacteria and plaque tend to lurk in those hard-to-reach crevices. For children younger than 3, use a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste twice a day on their teeth and gums, and when they turn 3, switch over to a pea-sized amount. Keep in mind that your example is powerful, so be sure to demonstrate proper dental hygiene habits at all times.
There are some highly engaging apps out there to encourage correct brushing habits. Some show an animated cartoon brushing where your child should be brushing, and others play new music each week to keep brushing fun and upbeat. If you’re having difficulty motivating your child to brush for the recommended frequency and duration, you might want to look into one of those apps.
Monitor Eating Habits
When kids get bored, they tend to get hungry and want to munch the day away. While healthy snacks are beneficial to your child’s growing body, you should monitor what, when, and how much they eat. Excessive snacking prevents your child’s saliva from washing away harmful bacteria, which can lead to build-up and plaque on the teeth. Foods that are high in sugar, such as juice, cookies, candy, and carbonated drinks, can wreak havoc on your child’s teeth. Fibrous foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and foods high in calcium, such as cheese, can help strengthen your child’s teeth and gums, though they should still be snacked on in moderation.
If your child is an infant, try to stay away from bottles right at bedtime. I know that this is easier said than done, but milk is high in sugar and can damage your child’s teeth if it is left to sit overnight every single day. If you can swing it, have your child drink a bottle of water right before bed instead.
Keep up with Routine Maintenance
Of course, another thing that you can do to prevent cavities is to schedule and make accommodations to bring your child to dental checkups every six months. Your dentist will know warning signs for potential cavities and give you tips that will keep them from getting bigger. Keep in mind that cavities can grow undetected around existing repaired cavities or other previous dental work such as crowns or caps. A dentist can keep an eye on those vulnerable areas.
If your dentist finds a cavity that needs attention, he or she may be able to fill it that day, or if they’re busy, you may need to schedule a second appointment. You should feel at ease with your dentist, so don’t hesitate to ask questions regarding any procedure that they recommend. The dentist will then administer anesthesia, drill out the cavity, and fill it with a silver or resin compound. Some of the filling compounds are tooth-colored, which are nice and indiscreet, so be sure to discuss that option with your dentist before they start drilling.
While there isn’t a guaranteed method to prevent all cavities, these suggestions are a great start to help your child maintain a healthy, happy smile.