Dental Health in Children

It is important for dental care to be a priority in children’s healthcare dating from the time that the first tooth appears through the gums. Taking proper care of teeth is essential to prevent conditions such as tooth decay in children, which is very common in children and affects approximately 1 in 5 of children in the United States.

Image Credit: Oksana Kuzmina / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Oksana Kuzmina / Shutterstock

Baby Teeth and Teething

For most infants, baby teeth first begin to appear through the gums between the age of six months and one year. Teething can cause babies to drool, lose their appetite, become irritable, or have difficulty sleeping due to the soreness and tenderness of the gums as the teeth grow.

It can help for parents or caregivers to gently rub a clean finger, a spoon, or a damp gauze pad over the gums to soothe the infant. Additionally, a clean teething ring may also be beneficial.

Cavities or Tooth Decay in Children

Cavities, or tooth decay, are one of the most common chronic conditions in children of many developed countries, affecting approximately 20 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 11 in the United States. Without adequate treatment, cavities can cause significant pain and infections, which may have an impact on various aspects of the child’s life such as diet, speech, play and learning.

Fortunately, cavities are preventable with several techniques that can easily be applied in the home or during dental visits.

Fluoride plays a significant role in the strengthening and protection of teeth and can, therefore, help to prevent cavities in children. For example, a fluoride varnish painted on the teeth can prevent approximately one-third of tooth decay cases in young children. Brushing teeth with fluoride toothpaste can also help to prevent cavities. Additionally, drinking fluoridated tap water has been associated with lower rates of tooth decay in children.

Dietary Advice to Prevent Dental Problems in Children

Diet plays a key role in the dental health of children. In particular, regular consumption of foods with high sugar content is linked to an increased risk of tooth decay.

Foods containing “sticky sugar” such as caramel, toffee and dried fruit are considered to be among the worst for dental health because they stay in the mouth for longer and increase the time that the teeth are exposed to sugar. It is ideal for children to avoid such foods, or at the least to make sure to brush their teeth properly after eating them.

Guide to Dental Care by Child’s Age

It is recommended to begin cleaning children’s teeth as soon as they erupt through the gums. Up until the age of two years, it is best to use a soft toothbrush and water, without any toothpaste. This is very important to prevent the development of cavities.

For children between the ages of two and seven years, a small amount of toothpaste (approximately the size of a pea) may be used to clean the teeth twice a day. After brushing their teeth, they should spit the toothpaste out without swallowing it, but it is not recommended to rinse the mouth because this can wash away the fluoride. It is often helpful for parents or caregivers to supervise teeth brushing to help children develop a good brushing technique.

Dental Health Checkups for Children

Regular dental checkups are an important part of maintaining good dental health in children. A dentist can monitor the growth and development of teeth and detect early signs of tooth decay that may require treatment. Additionally, they can give advice to parents about proper brushing techniques for children to prevent cavities.

Reviewed by Liji Thomas, MD

References

Further Reading

    Last Updated: Jun 7, 2017

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