Brush Your Way to Healthier Gums
It is important that you brush your teeth and gums at least twice a day—even better, after every meal, if you can. Brushing removes plaque, a film of bacteria that clings to teeth. When bacteria in plaque come into contact with food, they produce acids. These acids lead to cavities.
Although brushing your teeth seems like a very easy thing everyone can do, you should teach your children the most effective way to brush by modeling your own behavior. Here are ten tips to accomplish this task:
- Place a pea-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste on the bristles of a soft toothbrush.
- Place the toothbrush against the teeth at a 45º angle to the gum line.
- Move the brush across the teeth back and forth gently in short strokes, cleaning one tooth at a time, using a small, circular motion. Keep the tips of the bristles against the gum line. Avoid pressing so hard that the bristles lie flat against the teeth; only the tips of the toothbrush clean the teeth. Let the bristles reach into the spaces between the teeth.
- Brush the outer surfaces, the inner surfaces and the chewing surfaces of all the teeth. Make sure the bristles get into the grooves and crevices.
- Use the same small, circular motion to clean the backsides of the upper and lower teeth—the sides that face the tongue.
- To clean the inner surface of the bottom front teeth, angle the head in an up-and-down position toward the bottom inside of the mouth and move the toothbrush in several up-and-down strokes.
- For the inside of the top front teeth, angle the brush in an up-and-down position with the tip of the head pointing toward the roof of the mouth. Move the toothbrush in several up-and-down strokes.
- Give your tongue a few gentle brush strokes, brushing from the back forward. Do not scrub. This helps remove bacteria and freshens your breath.
- After brushing your teeth for two to three minutes, rinse your mouth well with water.
- Replace your toothbrush with a new one every three to four months.
In addition to brushing, it is important to floss teeth once a day. Flossing gets rid of food and plaque between the teeth, where the toothbrush cannot reach. If plaque stays between teeth, it can harden into tartar, which must be removed with a professional cleaning. Antibacterial mouth rinses (there are fluoride mouth rinses, as well) can also reduce bacteria that cause plaque and gum disease, according to the American Dental Association.
Taking care of your teeth and gums on a regular daily basis will keep breath fresh and teeth clean, while holding cavity-causing bacteria at bay.
It’s Never Too Early to Prevent Cavities
Dental problems such as cavities (also known as dental caries) can have a major impact on children. Pain and the effect on their appearance may not only leave children feeling bad but can also result in a lifelong fear of dentists. This leaves many parents wondering just how and when to start preventing cavities.
A recent study has shed some light on a factor you may not have considered: how you feed your child. While many parents may think cavity prevention starts only when their child has his or her first tooth, what and how you feed your baby appears to play a crucial role. Certain feeding practices can lead to severe early childhood caries. When that occurs, your child can suffer from
- chewing problems
- speech difficulties
- poor self-esteem
On top of that, it can be costly to treat severe early childhood caries. Just as your eating habits affect your likelihood of developing cavities, so too do your child’s feeding practices. Children who are breastfed seven or more times a day after they are 12 months old are thought to have a higher incidence of cavities.
Another risky behavior is using a bottle for liquids other than milk. The number of meals and snacks can similarly put your child at a higher risk for cavities.
When it comes to feeding, what you do today can have consequences later for your child. We have information on how you can help prevent cavities in your child. Simple measures such as avoiding or reducing the consumption of foods high in sugar can help. Appropriate intervals between feedings can also make a difference.
Research shows it is critically important that you receive advice before your child transitions from an exclusive milk diet to solid foods.
Ease Your Child’s Dental Pain
When your child complains of a toothache, it does not always mean there is a cavity. Many toothaches occur when a tooth temporarily becomes overly sensitive. Knowing how to relieve the pain—and when to call the dentist—are important factors in helping your child overcome tooth discomfort.
If your child develops a toothache, you can take several simple steps that may relieve the pain. At first complaint,
- ask your child to identify the tooth causing the pain
- check for food or other objects which may have lodged between teeth
- even if nothing is visible, very gently use dental floss on either side of the painful tooth to dislodge any tiny particles that may be causing the discomfort
- have your child rinse his or her mouth with warm salt water, which may help reduce swelling and relieve accompanying pain
- give your child an over-the-counter medication like acetaminophen if pain persists
- use an icepack on the cheek or jaw for 20 minutes
However, not all toothaches can be treated at home. We can determine the cause and treat your child if
- the pain is accompanied by fever
- the pain is very severe
- your child’s face is swollen
- your child continues to complain of tooth pain after a day or so
Help Your Child’s Tooth Enamel Last a Lifetime
Tooth enamel, the hardest tissue in the human body, protects teeth from daily wear and tear. If properly cared for, the enamel that covers your child’s teeth is designed to last a lifetime. Although enamel will become worn with normal use, establishing good habits in childhood can go a long way toward keeping the hard covering stable and healthy. Here are a few tips for protecting enamel:
- Limit sugar-laden foods and drinks. Sugar triggers the production of acid in your child’s mouth. Foods that are both sweet and sticky are especially bad for enamel. Beverages like soda pop frequently contain other ingredients such as citric or phosphoric acid that can be harmful to enamel.
- Focus on foods that protect enamel. Dairy products help strengthen and protect dental enamel while neutralizing acids in the mouth that can erode enamel over time. If your child likes orange juice, choose a juice with calcium added to help neutralize the juice’s natural acid.
- Brush thoroughly but gently. Make sure your child uses a soft brush and does not scrub teeth too vigorously. It’s also a good idea to wait about an hour after eating before brushing because some foods can soften enamel, making it more prone to brush-related damage.
- Look out for chlorine. If your child swims, make sure the gym or pool he or she uses checks and maintains the proper water pH level. Improperly chlorinated pools can become acidic. Tell your child to keep his or her mouth closed when swimming to avoid having his or her teeth come into contact with the water.
- Drink lots of water. Especially after periods of strenuous play or exercise, drinking water helps keep teeth and gums clean and moist, and reduces levels of harmful bacteria.
- Avoid the daily grind. Many children grind their teeth at night, a habit that can erode enamel significantly over time. If your child is a grinder, ask us about tooth guards to prevent damage.
- Visit the dentist regularly. The best way to monitor your child’s tooth enamel for signs of damage is to make sure he or she sees the dentist every six months. Other ways to protect enamel include the use of oral care products containing fluoride.
Start early and monitor your child’s oral health to ensure that the tooth’s enamel will remain intact throughout his or her entire lifetime.
Break the Pacifier Habit—Gently and Creatively
The Latin root for pacifier is “pax,” or peace—and any parent who has been brought relief from an infant’s screams by that bit of plastic knows why. But when the infant has become a toddler, or even preschooler, getting him or her to forgo the binky for good may feel like a war.
On the one hand—no pun intended—it can be easier to break a child of a pacifier habit than a thumb-sucking habit (you can’t take away a thumb!), so the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that you provide your baby with a safe pacifier in infancy to satisfy her natural need to suck.
But, according to the AAPD, the pacifier habit should be strongly discouraged after age 3. In fact, there’s evidence that the longer a child uses a pacifier after age 2, the greater the chances that his or her jaw and tooth development will be adversely affected and correctable only by orthodontics years later.
If your child is very attached to the pacifier, you may have to employ a creative strategy (or two) in the detachment process. Experienced parents have made the following suggestions:
- Enlist your dentist’s help. Arrange in advance for your dentist to give your child a special gift in return for her bag of collected binkies.
- Visit a Build-A-Bear Workshop. Along with the stuffing, fill the bear with the pacifiers. This way, your child still has the binkies, but they won’t be ruining his or her bite.
- Create a sticker chart. Every binky-free day earns a sticker for your child. A certain number of stickers earn her a special toy.
- Conduct a visit from the Tooth Fairy’s cousin, the Paci-Fairy. Pacifiers placed under your child’s pillow at night are “miraculously” replaced with something very special by the next morning.
Even if one of these strategies works initially, there is no guarantee that a follow-up tantrum or two won’t erupt. Be sympathetic but staunch, suggests Mark L. Brenner, author of the book Pacifiers, Blankets, Bottles, and Thumbs: What Every Parent Should Know About Starting and Stopping. Most kids, he says, will accept their binky-free state in a couple of days.
“Magical” Protection from Cavities
Wouldn’t it be nice if a magic shield could help protect your children from cavities? Well, think of your dentist as a magician: By using a process called sealants, she or he can help your kids avoid decay in the back molars, the teeth most prone to cavities in young mouths.
The back molars have a few things working against them. They are full of deep grooves, making it easy for food particles and germs to become trapped. They are also difficult to clean, particularly when you’re dealing with small mouths and the impatient little people attached to them. Dental sealants provide a protective coating, made out of a thin plastic substance that covers the grooves on the back teeth. Since food and bacteria can’t get through the plastic, the teeth are protected from decay.
Better still, sealants are virtually invisible, and quick and painless to apply. We clean the tooth using a special gel before painting on the sealant itself. Sometimes, a special light is used to harden the sealant. The process only takes a few minutes to complete, and the sealant can protect the teeth for up to 10 years.
Dentists recommend applying sealants as soon as the permanent molars erupt, before any decay occurs. That way the sealant will be most powerful during the prime cavity-prone years (ages six to 14 years). Sealants can be put on both permanent molars and pre-molars, and are often covered by dental insurance.
Keep in mind, though, that it is still important for children to maintain good oral hygiene. With good brushing, fluoride and regular dental care, sealants can be an almost magical way to keep your children’s mouths healthy and cavity-free!