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Oral Care for Young Children: 101

Think twice before breastfeeding or bottle feeding your child in the middle of the night!

The Importance of Baby Teeth

Baby teeth are going to fall out anyway, so why should parents worry about baby tooth decay and baby tooth loss? While primary (baby) teeth will eventually shed, the last set of primary molars do not fall out until the child is 10-12 years old. Baby teeth serve several important roles:

  • Speech/chewing
  • Space holder for permanent teeth
  • Builds and strengthens jaw and facial muscles
  • Provide guidance for the eruption pathway of the permanent teeth

Baby teeth are softer than permanent teeth and their enamel is thinner. Enamel is the outer layer of tooth that helps protect the surface from decay. Because these teeth are softer and have thinner enamel, baby teeth are more susceptible to cavities and wear. If tooth decay is left untreated, it could lead to pain, infection, and extraction, which can cause teeth shifting and delay permanent teeth eruption.

Dental Hygiene for Young Children

  • Brush gently with a soft bristle toothbrush as soon as there is tooth eruption
  • A tiny amount of fluoride-free toothpaste may be used until the child learns to spit out the toothpaste
  • Begin flossing when the child's teeth are touching one another
  • Assist with brushing until they are 7 or 8 years old or can brush on their own
  • Be sure to have your child brush twice a day and floss daily
  • Make brushing fun by playing music, games, or using applications on a device

Habits to Avoid

Providing sugary snacks may be convenient when life is hectic, but keep in mind that large quantities of sugar can jeopardize a child's teeth. Promote a healthy oral care by avoiding the following habits:

  • Sugary drinks (such as fruit juices), snacks, and candies
  • Nail biting can lead to bruxism (grinding) and enamel wear
  • Thumb sucking is normal for babies and toddlers; however, after age two, thumb sucking can lead to dental issues (overbite) which could require orthodontic treatment down the road
  • Middle of the night breast or bottle-feeding after tooth eruption; once the baby's teeth begin to erupt, the sugars in milk can cause cavities

Proper oral care for young children and regular dentist visits can help prevent or identify cavities and other oral issues that can impact permanent teeth. Therefore, it is important to establish a good oral hygiene routine with young children and start visiting the dentist regularly by age one.