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How to Check for Tooth Decay in Toddlers

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How to Check for Tooth Decay in Toddlers

Mar 14, 2016

Tooth decay is the most common chronic children’s disease in the country—even more chronic than allergies. Over 40 percent of children will have tooth decay before kindergarten. And those who have it are more likely to suffer from cavities in adulthood. Dr. Cindy Gellner tells you how to check for tooth decay and simple ways you can keep your child's teeth strong and healthy.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Gellner: It's never too early to start taking care of your child's teeth. I'll tell you how today on The Scope. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering the healthy kids' zone with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that tooth decay is the most common chronic children's disease in the country. As a result, it is very important that parents work with their pediatrician to establish good oral health care starting around the time that first tooth pops out. Since pediatricians see little ones so frequently for preventive healthcare visits in the first few years of their lives, we are in an excellent position to figure out which children are at risk for dental health problems, educate parents on how to take care of their child's teeth and how parents find pediatric dentists in the area that take their insurance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that tooth decay is five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than allergies in children. More than 40% of children have tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten. Children with cavities in their baby teeth are at much greater risk for cavities in their adult teeth. We know that tooth decay is a problem that is largely preventable. So what can you do to help your child have their best smile?

First, make sure your child has fluoride. It's a naturally occurring mineral that is added to the drinking water in most cities. It strengthens the tooth enamel, making it more resistant to acid attacks that can cause tooth decay. It also reduces the ability of plaque bacteria to produce acid and cause those nasty cavities. If you use bottled water or your city does not have fluoride in the water, you can give your child vitamins with fluoride in them to help their teeth. You should check and clean your baby's teeth.

Healthy teeth should all be one color. If you see dark spots or stains on the teeth, take your baby to the dentist. White spots can sometimes appear as the enamel forms so don't worry so much about those. But as soon as your child has a tooth, begin to use fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice on the bristles. Now this is a change from the training toothpastes that don't contain fluoride that pediatricians and dentists used to recommend until about 18 months ago. There was a concern that little kids could swallow too much fluoride, but studies show that the rice grain amount is just the right amount for tooth decay prevention without being poisonous.

Parents should clean the teeth at least twice a day. It's best to clean them right after breakfast and before bedtime. Once your child turns three and they are getting better at rinsing and spitting, you can begin to use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. It's best if you, the parent, put the toothpaste on the toothbrush until your child is about six.

Be sure to feed your baby healthy foods. Choose drinks and foods that do not have a lot of sugar in them. Give your child fruits and vegetables instead of candy and cookies. And be careful with dried fruits such as raisins, since they easily stick to the grooves of the teeth and can cause cavities if not thoroughly brushed off the teeth.

Chances are you know someone who has had baby bottle tooth decay. Milk, formula, juices and other sweet drinks like soda all have sugar in them. Sucking on a bottle filled with liquids that have sugar in them can cause tooth decay. Do not put your baby to bed with a bottle at night or at nap time once they have a few teeth.

During the day, do not give your baby a bottle filled with sweet drinks to use like a pacifier, just walking around from room to room and taking a sip whenever they want. If your baby uses a pacifier, do not dip it in anything sweet like sugar or honey. Near your child's first birthday you should teach your child to drink from a cup instead of a bottle. When your child gets their first few teeth in, your pediatrician should be discussing with you whether or not to have a family or pediatric dentist. Usually, a pediatric dentist will want to see the child by their first birthday or within six months of the first tooth popping out.

Some family dentists start seeing children more around their second birthday. At this first visit, your dentist can easily check your child's teeth and determine the frequency of future dental checkups. Remember, early dental care is important for keeping kids pearly whites healthy and teaching them good oral hygiene.

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