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Good Oral Health = Good Overall Health

Caring for Your Child’s Teeth

By Dr. Carol Janik, Chief, Pediatric Dentistry

Most of us would be surprised to learn that early tooth decay is the most common childhood disease. In fact, it is five times more common than asthma! That being said, early childhood tooth decay is preventable and avoidable if you care for your child’s teeth from the time your baby is born.

Looking after your baby’s primary teeth is just as important as his permanent teeth. Just as you look after your baby’s other basic needs, like feeding, changing and bathing, you need to spend a few minutes each day caring for his gums and teeth.

If you have a newborn, we recommend that you:

  • Breastfeed, as this is best for your baby. It helps develop a strong jaw and healthy teeth.
  • Clean baby’s mouth and gums, with a clean damp washcloth, at least twice a day or after feeding. Lay your baby on your lap or change table when doing this — you will see better and do a better job.
  • Never put your baby to bed with a bottle, unless it’s water, or use feeding as a way to comfort your child. Remove your child from the breast or take the bottle away before they fall asleep. This encourages them to swallow their last mouthful. A mouthful of milk can eventually lead to tooth decay if left in their mouth overnight, and done repeatedly.

If your child is under a year old, you should:

  • Brush your baby’s teeth, as soon as they come in, twice a day. Use a soft bristle toothbrush or look for a brush that fits onto your finger. Do not use toothpaste, only water.
  • No juice, pop, or other sweet drinks in bottle or sippy cup.
  • Don’t dip the soother in sweets.
  • Use a teething ring instead of teething biscuits.
  • Take baby off the bottle by 12-14 months.

If your child is a year old and older, you should:

  • Start using a very small amount of toothpaste to brush your child’s teeth. Ages 1-2 should use a slight smear, ages 3 to 5 ½ of pea-size, and ages 6 and over a pea-sized amount.
  • Brush your child’s teeth twice a day for two minutes. Use an egg timer to make it fun for your child.
  • Use a toothpaste that is recognized by the Canadian Dental Association, and teach your child to spit out the toothpaste after brushing.
  • Limit juice, pop, sweets and offer healthy foods and snacks such as crackers & cheese, milk, yogourt, fruit & vegetables, sandwich, unsweetened applesauce, non-sugar coated cereal or unsweetened rice cakes.
  • Visit the dentist regularly, at least once a year for an assessment and cleaning.

How do I know if my child has tooth decay?

Tooth decay can be seen either on the front of the tooth, or seen with the help of a dental mirror that you can buy at a pharmacy. Check your child’s teeth at least once a month, looking along the gum line. Decay looks like white, brown or discoloured areas or patches on the teeth. Redness on the gum or swelling along the gum is another sign to watch for.

Early childhood tooth decay is painful and can affect your child’s sleeping, eating, learning and behaviour. Tooth decay can cause infections and these teeth may need to be removed because of the pain they cause as well as to prevent decay from affecting the permanent teeth. Sometimes, these teeth need to be removed in hospital and under anesthetic. Studies have shown that children with several dental carries (cavities) have a lower body weight and poorer quality of life.

Removing baby teeth may cause your child to have trouble speaking, difficulty chewing, lead to crooked adult teeth and make him feel bad about himself. Prevention is the best way to preserve these important teeth.

What can I do if I suspect tooth decay?

Contact your dentist and ask for your child to be seen. We recommend that your child be seen as early as one year old for an assessment and information session with a dentist. If your dentist won’t see children that young, try contacting other dentists who might specialize in treating children, or see your doctor or call your public health nurse. Whatever you do, don’t ignore what you may suspect as tooth decay. Just because they’re baby teeth, it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be looked after.

What if my child injures his teeth or gums?

If your child is injured, you should take him to a dentist as soon as possible to be assessed. Wearing a mouth guard is important if playing sports. If primary teeth are knocked out, they cannot be put back in. This can only be done with permanent teeth and only in certain circumstances.

Where else can I get information?

Canadian Paediatric Society

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

Canadian Dental Association

Games and an interactive visit to the dentist, to share with your child:
American Dental Association

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