Tooth decay is a very common childhood disease, but parents sometimes overlook the importance of caring for baby teeth. Dr. Jennifer Salzer, a mother of four and a dentist, recently spoke to LoveToKnowBaby on the importance of dental care for babies and young children.
About Caring for Baby Teeth
LoveToKnow (LTK): Please tell us about yourself.
Jennifer Salzer (JS): I graduated from Duke University in 1993 and received a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from New York University in 1997. I went on to obtain a certificate in Orthodontics from New York University in 1999. Now, I practice on Park Avenue in Manhattan, and I'm a mom to four wonderful children!
LTK: When should parents first become concerned with their child's dental care?
JS: Parents should ensure their child visits the dentist by his or her first birthday to assess risks and dental development. A good rule of thumb is "First visit by first birthday."
Tips on Caring for Baby Teeth
LTK: What dental problems can arise for babies?
JS: With babies, parents should focus on developing good bedtime habits, including the following:
- Brushing teeth and avoiding using feeding as a signal for bed, which can expose teeth to sugary drinks like formula or juice.
- Additionally, to prevent tooth decay, children should not fall asleep with a bottle that contains anything other than water.
- After feedings (breast or bottle), parents should take precaution by gently wiping a baby's gums with a soft, clean cloth.
- When a baby's first teeth come in, use a toothbrush that is specifically designed to brush baby's gums and teeth, like Oral-B Stage 1.
Dental Problems for Toddlers
LTK: What dental problems can arise for toddlers?
JS: As children move into the toddler years and become more independent and, at times, defiant, maintaining appropriate parental involvement and insuring adequate oral hygiene can become far more challenging. Children are being introduced to candy, soda and juice, and may continue to use a bottle or sippy cup - all of which can exacerbate oral health problems. Pain caused by tooth decay and infection can result in the development of poor eating habits and an inability to eat comfortably.
- At this age, parents should brush teeth regularly with the proper tools to help prevent cavities.
- To help overcome resistance to tooth brushing typical at this stage of development and make the daily task more fun and accepted, parents can choose a toothbrush designed to appeal to a toddler who is learning to brush and whose baby teeth are growing in, like the Oral-B Stage 2.
- Starting at the age of two, children should use a pea-size amount of fluoridated toothpaste to help prevent decay as their teeth continue to develop.
- Parents should supervise their brushing until good habits are established.
Dental Problems for Older Children
LTK: What dental problems can arise for older children?
JS: As kids get older and hit their "tween" years, they begin to develop their own personal style in clothes, music, food, hobbies - even their oral care. Oral health is an important issue particularly for kids, especially since tooth decay is still recognized as the most common chronic disease affecting children in the United States, and 51 million hours of school are lost each year due to dental-related illnesses. To help encourage healthy oral care habits, parents can choose products their kids will want to use, like the new Crest and Oral-B Pro-Health FOR ME collection, which comes in great-tasting flavors (not-too-spicy, not-too-sweet) and fun packaging that's cool enough for tweens.
Tooth Decay and Your Child's Health
LTK: How can tooth decay affect a child's health?
JS: Tooth decay is the most common, chronic childhood disease and if left untreated, can lead to more serious forms of gum disease. Many parents do not realize that in addition to pain and infection, untreated oral disease in children can lead to distraction from play and learning, as well as missed school days for dental visits.
LTK: Do you have any other tips or advice you'd like to share on caring for baby teeth?
JS: Even babies learn by watching...take care of your own teeth, and kids will learn by example!
LTK: Where can we read more about you?