Keeping Your Child's Teeth Healthy (Part 2)
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that a child's first visit to the dentist take place by the first birthday. At this visit, the dentist will explain proper brushing and flossing techniques (you need to floss once your baby has two teeth that touch) and conduct a modified exam while your baby sits on your lap.
Such visits can help in the early detection of potential problems, and help kids become accustomed to visiting the dentist so they'll have less fear about going as they grow older.
When all of your child's primary teeth have come in (usually around age 2½) your dentist may start applying topical fluoride. Fluoride hardens the tooth enamel, helping to ward off the most common childhood oral disease, dental caries, or cavities. Cavities are caused by bacteria and food that are left on the teeth after eating. When these are not brushed away, acid collects on a tooth, softening its enamel until a hole — or cavity — forms. Regular use of fluoride toughens the enamel, making it more difficult for acid to penetrate.
Although many municipalities require tap water to be fluoridated, other communities have no such regulations. If the water supply is not fluoridated, or if your family uses purified water, ask your dentist for fluoride supplements. Even though most toothpastes contain fluoride, toothpaste alone will not fully protect a child's mouth. Be careful, however, since too much fluoride can cause tooth discoloration. Check with your dentist before supplementing.
Discoloration can also occur as a result of prolonged use of antibiotics, as some children's medications contain a large amount of sugar. Parents should encourage children to brush after they take their medicine, particularly if the prescription will be long-term.
Brushing at least twice a day and routine flossing will help maintain a healthy mouth. Kids as young as age 2 or 3 can begin to use toothpaste when brushing, as long as they are supervised. Kids should not ingest large amounts of toothpaste — a pea-sized amount for toddlers is just right. Parents should always make sure the child spits the toothpaste out instead of swallowing.
As your child's permanent teeth grow in, the dentist can help seal out decay by applying a thin wash of resin to the back teeth, where most chewing occurs. Known as a sealant, this protective coating keeps bacteria from settling in the hard-to-reach crevices of the molars.
Although dental research has resulted in increasingly sophisticated preventative techniques, including fillings and sealants that seep fluoride, a dentist's care is only part of the equation.
Follow-up at home plays an equally important role. For example, sealants on the teeth do not mean that a child can eat sweets uncontrollably or slack off on the daily brushing and flossing — parents must work with kids to teach good oral health habits.
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