Prevention & Care Tips
Bacteria: give your baby the better type
Cavities are caused by many bacteria and one of the most common ones is strep mutans. Babies are born with sterile mouths! They don’t have any bacteria in their mouth, but will pick it up from others, usually their primary caregiver (mom, dad, grandparent, etc). This occurs via the saliva, through kisses on the mouth (or kissing their hand and then the child sucks their hands), or the adult licking their pacifier or sharing food utensils. For this reason, it is good form for parents to limit who kisses their child on the mouth or on their hands. By the age of 18 months the child will have the bacteria in their mouth that they will carry into adulthood.
During these first 18 months, we recommend to new parents or parents-to-be, that the parent with the least cavities but worse oral home care (yes, that is correct; the parent that has the best teeth despite being the less careful) should u the one to kiss the baby on the mouth or lick their pacifier or bottle nipple. As well, during this time be careful with what your child puts in their mouth, as even toys they share with other kids can have the saliva from other older children whose mouths are already colonized.
Adopting healthy oral hygiene habits
As your child’s teeth erupt, be sure to examine them every two weeks, looking for lines and discoloration that may be caused by decay. Remember that sugary foods and liquids can attack a new tooth, so take care that your child brushes their teeth after feeding or eating. We recommend brushing four times a day for optimal oral hygiene: after breakfast, after lunch, after dinner, and at bedtime.
When a baby’s tooth erupts, parents should clean the teeth and gums with a clean wet cloth, or a “baby” toothbrush. No toothpaste should be used. For toddlers and older, you can use a soft-bristled toothbrush and a tiny pea-sized amount of toothpaste, but make sure that the toothpaste does not have fluoride unless the child is able to spit well. Ingestion of too much fluoride is toxic. Children should be supervised while brushing, and an adult should also brush their teeth until the child has the dexterity to do a good job. As a general rule, a child should have the manual dexterity to brush well when they can tie their shoelaces.
Flossing is also a part of good oral hygiene habits. An adult should floss between a child’s teeth, especially if there is very little space between the teeth. Floss picks and other aids can be useful. Speak to your dentist and dental hygienist for more tips.
This video shows one of our little patients brushing and flossing, with mom’s help:
Preventing tooth decay with regular check ups
Tooth decay is caused by plaque, which is a mixture of oral fluids, bacteria, and food. Children are at high risk for tooth decay for a simple reason — many children and adolescents do not practice regular, good oral hygiene habits. Proper brushing and flossing routines combined with regular dental visits help keep tooth decay away.
Check ups every 6 months allow your dentist to catch problems early, and that usually means more conservative treatment. As well, it gives your dental care team the opportunity to identify the cause of the problem and look into ways of preventing it.
As well, your child will have their teeth cleaned so that all plaque and tartar is removed, and they get a brand new start at good oral care. During orthodontic treatment, we recommend your child get their teeth cleaned every 3 months, since cleaning around braces is challenging and we find most of our patients have trouble doing an excellent job. Failure to clean well during this time can leave your child with perfectly straight teeth, but with very visible cavities.
We can provide you with chewable disclosing tablets that your child can chew and the plaque on their teeth will turn pink – this can guide your child as to where they need to brush and floss better, or if used after brushing and flossing, it shows them which parts they are not cleaning well.
Speak to your dentist about your child’s home care and they will let you know if it is effective or where you can improve.
Preventing tooth decay with proper diet and eating habits
When we talk about diet and oral health, the first thing we want to emphasize is that proper nutrition is important for overall health, including health of the teeth, gums and jaw bone. Keep in mind though, that even nutritious food can cause cavities, if it stays on the teeth long enough.
Cavities are formed, and more quickly, when there is contact of CARBOHYDRATE type of foods and the teeth. This means that even if you eat an apple, which is nutritious, but you don’t clean your mouth, that apple can cause you cavities. Or snack often on other fruit, that can also cause cavities. Obviously, eating sweets, candy, chips, or other types of junk food, is not good for your teeth or overall health. There are food choices that cause less cavities, such as cheese, which some studies show may prevent cavities by neutralizing acid in the mouth. This might be a good choice if you know you won’t be able to brush your child’s teeth until much later on in the day.
The FREQUENCY of eating impacts cavity formation more than the quantity of the food eaten. For example, if you drink a glass of fruit juice by sipping it in small amounts throughout the day, that is worse for your teeth than if you drank that one glass of fruit juice in one sitting. Try to limit the number of snacks your child has, and discourage eating on demand unless you are able to clean their teeth after each snack. For babies, do not put them to bed with a bottle of milk – this is the reason the term “baby bottle caries” was formed: cavities can form in baby teeth in children usually less than 2 years of age because they are put to bed with a bottle of milk. The bacteria in the baby’s mouth gets many hours uninterrupted to feast on the carbohydrates in milk and form cavity producing acid. Instead, give water if the child must sleep with a bottle, or give the child a soother if all they need is the soothing effect of the bottle.
Give your child WATER over juice or pop any time you can. Water not only is NOT cavity producing (unlike juice or pop), but it also acts to loosen food particles in the mouth and wash the teeth.
Some children find it soothing to suck on their thumbs or fingers, especially when trying to sleep. This can be a very difficult habit to break. We encourage that this habit be broken as soon as possible, but most importantly by around age 6 when their first adult incisors start to come in. Continuing with a thumb/finger sucking habit after this has occurred can cause the teeth to tip into poor alignment, and even result in the jaws forming inappropriately. Speak to your dentist about a referral to an orthodontist for habit breaking appliances if you have not been able to get your child to stop on your own.
Sucking on a soother is an easier habit to break, since the soother can be removed. However, continuing to use a soother after around age 6 can lead to the same poor outcomes as that of finger or thumb sucking.
Biting of finger nails, cuticles, or pencils, pens, or other foreign objects, can cause damage to the front teeth. Please discourage these habits, and let your dentist and hygienist know so that we can help you to motivate a behaviour change in your child.