Brushing children’s teeth properly removes food debris, plaque

-A A +A

I am often asked this question by parents who are concerned about protecting their child’s teeth from tooth decay or cavities. The short answer: It depends on whether their teeth are touching. Most children under 6 years old have only baby teeth. Baby teeth usually have spaces in between them, so brushing correctly, performed by an adult, is enough to remove food debris and plaque.

Around 6 years old, children’s first molars start to erupt behind the baby teeth and the front teeth, which are adult teeth, start to come in. These adult teeth are larger and touch the teeth next to them. Flossing is the only way to clean away bacteria and food from between teeth. But, flossing is not the most important factor in preventing cavities in children’s teeth.

You can prevent cavities by following two rules:

1) minimize the length of time your child is exposed to sugar and

2) make sure their teeth receive fluoride every day from their toothpaste and drinking water.

Tooth decay is caused by exposing your child’s teeth to sugars in his or her diet and not brushing with fluoride toothpaste the right way. When sugar is consumed in food or drinks, it provides food for the bacteria which produce acid. The acid can eat away the enamel of the teeth and cause damage. Every time your child consumes sugary beverages or food, and does not stop the bacteria by brushing with fluoride toothpaste, the damage gets a little deeper, until it causes an infection.

Almost half of the sugar in the diets of Americans 2 years old and older come from beverages such as soda and fruit drinks. Sugar is also common in sweets, snacks and grains such as crackers, bread and cereal. Ketchup or salad dressing can also have a few extra teaspoons of sugar.

Young children who eat sugary snacks and drinks throughout the day are at risk for tooth decay also. Consuming snacks or drinks right before bedtime is the most dangerous, because your saliva flow slows down when you go to sleep. The acids produced by the bacteria in your mouth aren’t washed away or neutralized. That’s why it’s critical to always brush with fluoride toothpaste before sleeping.

Many children liquid medicines for allergies, infections, pain or fever usually contain sugar to hide the unpleasant taste. Drinking water or brushing after taking liquid medicine can also reduce your child’s risk for decay.

Babies and toddlers are at risk for tooth decay because formula, juice and milk all contain some form of sugar. Drinking from a sippy cup all day and drinking from a bottle exposes baby teeth to sugar. And to prevent sugar from remaining in the babies mouth, he or she should never be put to bed or allowed to fall asleep with a bottle of milk or formula. It’s important to clean babies’ gums and teeth with a clean, wet gauze pad or soft washcloth after each feeding to help prevent cavities. It removes the sticky film that contains the bacteria which cause tooth decay.

Another way to prevent cavities is to drink tap water. The theme for National Children’s Dental Health Month is “Choose Tap Water for a Sparkling Smile.” Drinking water that contains a small amount of fluoride has been shown to prevent 27 percent more cavities in both children and adults.

Here is a summary of the other important ways to prevent cavities in your children’s teeth at any age:

n Give them a healthy diet, so they have all of the vitamins and minerals that they need to keep their teeth, gums, and jaw bones healthy.

n Limit sugary or starchy snacks between meals; offer nutritious snacks like fresh veggies, fruit, unsweetened yogurt or nuts instead of crackers.

n Avoid sugary drinks such as sodas, juices, lemonade and sports drinks; provide water or low-fat milk.

n Help your children brush twice daily for two minutes and floss each day once their teeth are touching.

n Take your children for regular dental check-ups.

You can find out more about children’s dental health by visiting Mouth Healthy Kids at http://www.mouthhealthykids.org. For more information about healthy eating, check out the Army Public Health Center website at: https://usaphcapps.amedd.army.mil/HIOShoppingCart/searchResults.aspx?hot... or go to: www.MyPlate.gov. n