Parents’ Guide to Children’s Dental Health

February 28, 2018

Parents’ Guide to Children’s Dental Health

From brushing and flossing to preventative sealants, there’s a lot to know about protecting and maintaining your child’s dental health – but it doesn’t have to be intimidating! Some simple steps will help you start off on the right track, and keep you there as your child grows.

Dental development and care in children

Ages 6 months – 3 years
Teething generally happens during this time. See Infant Dental Health for information on care during this stage.

Ages 3 – 6 years
At this stage, your child will have most primary or “baby” teeth. During these years, children should be learning the basics of daily oral health care. Supervise brushing at least twice daily, and always at bedtime. Start to teach your child to choose healthy alternatives to soft drinks and sweets, and schedule regular checkups with us for preventive care.

Ages 7 – 12 years
The primary teeth are replaced by permanent or “adult” teeth during this period. These years are critical ones for reinforcing regular oral health care habits, so be firm! Set specific times for brushing such after breakfast and before bed, with no “skipping” allowed. Gum disease is also possible at this age, so make sure that flossing accompanies brushing at least once a day. If your child participates in contact sports, arrange for a custom mouthguard to protect his or her teeth. Be sure to continue regular check-ups with us!

Ages 13 – 18
Teenagers are even more susceptible to tooth decay than adults, often as a result of diet and inadequate oral hygiene, so it’s important to emphasize the ongoing need for both professional and personal care. In addition to regular maintenance, wisdom teeth arrive and often braces are needed, so it is crucial to watch for these issues and speak with us about the options.

Brushing and flossing basics for kids
Tooth decay can be greatly reduced by starting with daily home dental care as soon as your child’s teeth begin to come through the gums. Brushing at least twice daily, flossing, and limiting foods that are high in sugar are all steps that will help keep teeth and gums healthy.

Make it fun
Children should be allowed to practice brushing themselves, in order to learn how to properly brush their teeth. Supervise brushing to make sure teeth are properly cleaned, and be careful to make the experience positive and fun by allowing your child to pick out a toothbrush, making a game around brushing, or brushing your own teeth together with your child.

Toothbrushes and toothpastes
A pea-sized amount of toothpaste should be used for each brushing. After the age of 3, it is safe and recommended to use a toothpaste that contains fluoride, which has been shown to significantly reduce dental decay. Children can be sensitive to strong flavours, so it’s a good idea to choose a mild-tasting toothpaste, but every child is different so experiment to find a flavour your child enjoys. Toothbrushes should be replaced whenever the bristles become bent and frayed.

When to floss
Once your child’s primary molars are in, any teeth that contact adjacent teeth should be flossed daily.

Children’s cosmetic dentistry and orthodontics

School-aged children and teens become increasingly aware of their appearance, and even small things can cause anxiety and self-consciousness. Additionally, as a child grows and all of the adult teeth come into place, problems with spacing and bite can present themselves. These types of issues have implications beyond appearance, and can affect bite, chewing, and speaking, as well as the future health of your child’s teeth. Your child’s next check-up appointment is the perfect time for us to assess their smile and to discuss cosmetic or orthodontic options.

Preventative sealants for children

A sealant is a clear or shaded plastic material that is painted onto teeth to act as a protective barrier, preventing tooth decay. The sealant is applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, where tooth decay most often occurs. Studies have shown that sealants can reduce tooth decay by as much as 90% to 100%, effectively preventing the need for fillings. The American Dental Association recommends sealants be placed as soon as the first adult back teeth come in at age 6 or 7. Sealants should continue to be used as each adult back tooth comes into the mouth. All back teeth that need to be sealed are present by age 13.

How sealants work
Even if your child brushes and flosses carefully, it is difficult – or even impossible – to fully clean the tiny grooves and pits on certain teeth. Food and bacteria build up in these crevices, and increase the chance of tooth decay. Sealants “seal out” food and plaque, reducing the risk of decay and preventing the need for fillings.

Which teeth should be sealed
Any tooth with grooves or pits can benefit from the protection of sealants. The teeth most at risk of decay – and therefore most in need of sealants – are the 6-year and 12-year molars. Many times the permanent premolars and primary molars will also benefit from sealant coverage. Talk to your dentist, as each child’s situation is unique.

How long sealants last
Research shows that sealants can last for many years if properly cared for. With good brushing and flossing habits, and regular check-ups with us, your child’s teeth will be protected throughout the most cavity-prone years and longer. Your child’s dentist will check the sealants during check-ups and will recommend reapplication or repair if necessary.

The sealant application process
The application of tooth sealant is comfortable and painless, and will be completed in one visit. The tooth is first cleaned, conditioned, and dried. Following this, the sealant is flowed onto the grooves of the tooth and hardened with a special light. Your child will be able to eat as normal directly following the appointment.

Dental sealant costs
Sealant treatment is very affordable, especially when considering the valuable decay protection and elimination of dental fillings that sealant treatment offers. Most insurance companies cover sealants. Check with your benefits provider about your child’s coverage and talk to your dentist about the exact cost of sealants for your child.

Children’s cough medicine, vitamins, and lozenges

Cough syrups, liquid and tablet vitamins, and antibiotic syrups can contain anywhere from 10 – 75% sugar, and children’s formulas tend to fall of the higher end of the range. That’s not a big deal if you only use them once in a while, but the extreme amount of sugar can cause serious decay if your child is using these medicines on a regular basis – children who use syrups and lozenges over long periods of time have a much higher incidence of decay.

The good news is that more and more medicines are being made without sugar or with lower quantities of sugar. Check and compare labels to find choices with lower sugar that are better for your child’s teeth. If you’re not sure how to decide, just ask your pharmacist for help.