Healthy Mouth from the Start

Baby with Toothbrush

By By Sara C. Lee, MD

Preventing tooth decay is a lifelong challenge that begins in infancy. Years before children can assume responsibility for taking care of their own teeth, parents need to lay the foundation for their children’s healthy teeth to grow.

Children ages 6 months to 12 years need fluoride, which builds strong decay-resistant enamel and reduces cavities by 65 percent. Drinking fluoridated water such as tap water or bottled nursery water protects against tooth decay. Other bottled waters, spring water and well water may have too little fluoride. Too much fluoride, however, can cause white spots or mottling in the teeth. Some areas of Hampton Roads, including Suffolk and parts of Chesapeake, have high levels of fluoride in their water. Contact your local health department for more information about the water in your area or for a fluoride testing kit to test your water. Discuss your water’s fluoride level with your dentist or pediatrician.

Babies can get cavities as early as when their first teeth appear. You can prevent baby-bottle cavities by not letting your infant sleep with a bottle and by wiping the gums and teeth with a warm washcloth after each feeding.

By the time your child is a year old, you should be brushing his teeth. Brushing removes plaque that etches the tooth enamel and sets the stage for tooth decay. Because most children under the age of 7 don’t have the coordination or strength to brush their own teeth adequately, help your child brush daily. Try to brush after each meal, but especially in the morning and after the last meal or snack of the day. Teach him to rinse his mouth with water after each meal when he can’t brush his teeth.

Avoid snacks that can stick to the teeth and cause cavities. Limit juice and other sugary drinks to 4-6 ounces a day. Give your toddler juice or milk only at meals or snack times; do not allow him to “graze” with a cup of juice or milk throughout the day. Offer water instead.

More advanced measures of protection include fluoride varnishes that can be applied directly to your child’s teeth. If your child is over 6 years of age, daily rinsing with an over-the-counter fluoride rinse will also prevent decay by up to 25 percent. Sealants can be applied to permanent molars to form a direct barrier against bacteria, plaque and sticky foods.

By following these recommendations, your child can have a beautiful smile and be cavity-free for a lifetime.

Dr. Lee practices with CHKD Health System’s Tidewater Children’s Associates.

By Sara C. Lee, MD practices with CHKD Health System’s Tidewater Children's Associates.

Protecting those pearly whites
By Neil Morrison, DDS

Accidental tooth loss can mar a child’s pretty smile. Most dental traumas in childhood happen when baby teeth are knocked out due to a fall or collision while a toddler is learning to walk and run. But older children, especially those involved in sports, can lose or chip permanent teeth. Pediatric dentists and emergency specialists agree there are some important steps to take if a child’s tooth is knocked out.

If a baby tooth is knocked out:
  • Have the child rinse her mouth with warm water to clean the gums.
  • Have her bite down on a piece of clean gauze to stop bleeding.
  • Don’t try to put the tooth back in the socket.
  • Contact your pediatric dentist for instructions.
If a permanent tooth is knocked out:
  • Find the tooth and handle it only by the tip, not the roots.
  • Rinse it gently in milk. Do not scrub it or clean it with soap.
  • If possible, replace it in the socket and hold it there with clean gauze or a wash cloth.
  • If you cannot put the tooth back in the socket, place it in a clean container with milk.
  • Get to the dentist immediately. The faster you act, the more likely you’ll save the tooth.
If a tooth is chipped or fractured:
  • Contact the dentist right away. If you have the broken fragment, bring it with you to the dentist’s office.
  • Rinse the mouth with water and apply cold compresses to reduce swelling until you get to the dentist.

Dr. Morrison is an independent oral surgeon with Drs. Morrison and Morrison.