Taking Care of Your Child's Teeth

Agnesian Women's Health
Little girl brushing teeth

Tradition is a wonderful thing, but when it comes to taking care of your teeth, or those of your children, you may not want to follow the example set by your ancestors.

Your great-grandparents most likely never brushed nor flossed their teeth; dealt with a toothache by having it extracted; and probably ate with “false teeth” from the time they were 45 to 50 years of age.  Toothpaste, in fact, was invented only about 100 years ago, and, for many Americans, good dental care started during World War II when the U.S. Army issued toothbrushes and toothpaste to soldiers and instructed them to brush twice a day.

Fortunately, dental care standards were a bit tighter when you were a child, and they’ve tightened even more since that time so it’s important to pay attention carefully to instructions about how best to take care of your child's teeth.

A baby is born with bare gums and then has non-permanent “milk” or “baby” teeth for the first six years or so of life.  Those teeth are going to come out and give way to permanent teeth underneath, so your parents probably didn't worry about taking you to the dentist until you were in first or second grade.

All of that has changed, and it’s now believed that proper dental care begins early - before the first baby tooth has broken through the skin.


Even at the time of birth, a child has 20 teeth, some completely formed in the jaw, although none are showing.  Even so, bacteria can form on the top of the gums and cause health concerns.  As a result, parents are advised to wipe the baby’s gums with a cloth after each feeding.

This also prepares your child for having you feel around inside her mouth.  When teeth start breaking through the gums, you can help ease the pain by rubbing the gyms gently with your finger.  And once a few teeth start to show, you can start brushing them with a soft toothbrush, initiating an important habit for both parent and child.  Flossing?  That should start when the child has two teeth that touch, dentists say.


The most important threat to your baby’s teeth during this early period is knows as “bottle mouth.”  When you put your child to bed with a bottle in her mouth, sugars from milk or juice leave a residue of sugar  that stays in the mouth for hours and forms acid that eats away at the enamel of teeth.  The best advice: no bottle at night or only water in the bottle.

For the same reason, you should stop nursing once the child falls asleep.  And avoid letting the child walk around the house using a bottle of milk or juice as a pacifier.  A child is capable of using a cup by the age of six months, and that is the best vessel for juice.  In the past, some parents dipped a baby’s pacifier in sugar or honey, but it stands to reason that is not a good habit.

Signs of bottle mouth include pocked, pitted or discolored front teeth.  When cavities develop, the child may lose one or all of the front teeth.  They are only baby teeth, you say, but these teeth play a key role in eating and in speech and a hold a place so that permanent teeth grow in straight.


The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child’s first visit to the dentist should come no later than his or her first birthday.

If there are early concerns such as bottle mouth or dental caries (cavities), the density can offer a solution.  An early visit also helps the child feel comfortable in a dental chair and, along with the parents, learn the basics of good dental care.

Cavities are usually caused by an infection with Streptococcus mutans or Streptococcus sobrinus- infectious organisms that require the presence of a hard surface such as a tooth in order to grow.  These organisms are usually transmitted from the mother to the child when the child is 19 to 31 months of age.  So cavities can start during a child’s second year…or earlier.


We all know that candy rots a child’s teeth.  Kids love it, though, and candy is actually no worse for teeth than a loft of other foods such as potato chips, bread, peanut butter, crackers and pasta.  Bacteria in the mouth love carbohydrates, whatever the source, and the worst carbs are those which tend to stick to the teeth such as raisins and peanut butter.

Candy is a poor choice mainly because of the empty calories.  And the answer for your teeth is regular brushing-at least twice a day.


You’re probably going to have to brush your child’s teeth until age six or seven when she gains the manual dexterity to do it herself.  After that time, you’ll have to supervise for awhile to make sure the job is done properly and that not too much toothpaste is swallowed.

Be careful not to pile too much toothpaste on the brush; a pea-size amount is enough.  And make sure your child spits it out once the teeth are brushed.

Good dental care-including brushing and flossing-is a lifetime habit, and parents have a responsibility to see what it starts early.  Children - and adults - with sound teeth look better, of course.  They are also healthier and tend to eat a better diet.


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