KIDS’ DENTAL HEALTH: Prevent Cavities with Three Strategies

This is the first article in a 6-part series on Kids’ Health Tips from Dr. Erik Bostrom, family physician at Riverwood Healthcare Center in Aitkin.

Untreated tooth decay can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing and learning for children.

About 1 of 5 (20%) children aged 5 to 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth; and 1 of 7 (13%) adolescents aged 12 to 19 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.

The good news is that tooth decay is preventable. Three strategies to follow include:

  1. Brush teeth twice daily. Children who brush daily with fluoride toothpaste will have less tooth decay. If your child is younger than 6, watch your child brush to make sure only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste is used and is spit out, rather than swallowed.
  2. Use fluoride. Use fluoride toothpaste when your child is 2 or older. Talk to your pediatrician, family doctor, nurse, or dentist about putting fluoride varnish on your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears in the mouth. This fluoride coating can prevent about one-third of decay in the primary (baby) teeth. Also, talk to your child’s dentist about dental sealants, which protect teeth from decay.
  3. Drink fluoridated water when possible. Children living in communities with fluoridated tap water have fewer decayed teeth than children who live in areas where their tap water is not fluoridated. If you have well water, ask your doctor or dentist getting a fluoride prescription for your child.

Parents should start brushing a child’s teeth as soon as they appear. When teeth first come in, use something soft like a wet wash cloth wrapped around your finger to wipe a baby’s gums and teeth.  Starting to clean teeth at a very early age helps kids get used to the idea, and as they grow older reinforces the importance of brushing their teeth. There are many fantastic toothbrushes on the market now designed to fit a toddler’s dexterity, such as those with a large or special curved handle.

Bring your child to the dentist for a first checkup by age 1, and for checkups and cleanings every six months.