Mayo Clinic Q and A: Keeping children’s teeth healthy

  • Mayo Clinic Q&A

Close-up of an adult brushing the teeth of a blond Caucasian toddler

Dear Mayo Clinic: My 7 month old daughter recently got her first tooth. She loves chewing on her teething ring. I want to develop good dental habits as early as possible and develop the habit of brushing my teeth twice a day. When should I get her a toothbrush so she can get used to it? Do you have any other suggestions for establishing good oral hygiene early on?

answer: Tooth infections are one of the most common infections in children. Although dentistry has come a long way with the latest dental advancements, you still have to take an active role in your own and your child's dental care.

Children with cavities in their deciduous teeth are more likely to have cavities in their permanent teeth. Oral health is the health of the whole person, and untreated dental disease has been linked to stroke, heart disease, and diabetes in adulthood.

Dental caries (also called tooth decay or cavities) affects many children and adults. Dental caries is an infectious disease caused by the transfer of bacteria from your mouth or the mouth of another caregiver to your child's mouth. This disease is almost entirely preventable through good dental habits and routine checkups with your dentist.

Starting at 6 months of age, formula should be mixed with fluoridated water to make a bottle. Eating at night increases the risk of tooth decay caused by lactose (lactose). Generally speaking, the more carbohydrates a child consumes, the greater the chance of tooth decay.

Every child should have an oral health exam at age 1 or when the first tooth appears. Regular dental exams should be performed every three to six months. Dental care is different in every home and may include a pediatric dentist or family dentist; a women's, infant, and children's clinic; or even your health care professional's office.

Fluoride varnish should be applied to your child's teeth every three to six months and can usually be used during a well-checkup by the medical team. This topical fluoride can prevent and even reverse early tooth decay. Fluoride is a mineral found naturally in water and some foods. It strengthens enamel, the hard outer layer on your teeth.

You can start healthy habits with your children at a young age. By 6 months of age, children's water should contain fluoride, and children of brushing age should use a soft-bristle brush and fluoridated toothpaste. If you don't have access to fluoridated water, your child's health care team can recommend fluoride sources, including baby water or fluoridated drops or tablets.

Children need supervised brushing at least halfway through elementary school. Parents should supervise at all times. When you think your child is doing as well as you are, you can stop supervising. Brushing twice a day is usually enough, and children should start flossing as soon as their dentist advises.

Frequent snacking increases your child's risk of tooth decay. The saliva in their mouths is important in preventing tooth decay. If food or sugary liquids are constantly in the mouth, saliva cannot protect teeth from decay.

Avoid soda, juice and frequent snacking. Not only do they increase the risk of obesity, but the combination of sugar and acid can damage teeth. The same goes for juice. Juice is just soda without carbonation. Instead, choose to drink water between meals and choose to snack once or twice a day. Additionally, consuming foods and beverages rich in calcium and vitamin D can help strengthen bones and teeth.

You can help your child develop lifelong healthy dental habits, including cleaning their teeth, visiting the dentist regularly, and eating healthy foods. Dr. Erin Westfallfamily medicine, Mayo Clinic Health System, Mankato, Minnesota

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