Fluoride has been proven to strengthen tooth enamel against decay. That’s why it’s not only added to toothpaste and other dental products, but also to drinking water — in nearly three-quarters of U.S. water systems.
While research has eased most serious health questions about fluoride, there remains one moderate concern. Too much fluoride over time, especially in infants and young children, could lead to “enamel fluorosis,” an excess of fluoride in the tooth structure that can cause spotting or streaking in the enamel. While often barely noticeable, some cases of fluorosis can produce dark staining and a pitted appearance. Although not a symptom of disease, fluorosis can create a long-term cosmetic concern for the person.
To minimize its occurrence, children under the age of 9 shouldn’t regularly ingest fluoride above of the recommended level of 0.70 ppm (parts per million). In practical terms, you as a parent should monitor two primary sources of fluoride intake: toothpaste and drinking water.
Young children tend to swallow toothpaste rather than spit it out after brushing, which could result in too much fluoride ingestion if the amount is too great. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry therefore recommends a small “smear” of toothpaste for children under two, and a pea-sized amount for children up to age six. Brushing should also be limited to no more than two times a day.
Your child or infant could also take in too much fluoride through fluoridated drinking water, especially if you’re using it to mix infant formula. You should first find out the fluoride levels in your local water system by contacting the utility or the health department. If your system is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “My Water’s Fluoride” program, you may be able to access that information on line at //apps.nccd.cdc.gov/MWF/Index.asp.
If the risk for developing fluorosis in your area is high, you can minimize your infant’s intake with a few recommendations: breastfeed rather than use formula; use “ready-to-feed” formula that doesn’t need mixing and contains lower fluoride levels; and use bottled water specifically labeled “de-ionized,” “purified,” “de-mineralized,” or “distilled.”
Fluoride can be a wonderful adjunct to dental care in reducing risk for tooth decay. Keeping an eye on how much fluoride your child takes in can also minimize the chance of future appearance problems.
If you would like more information on the possible effects of fluoride on young children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”
Philosopher Will Durant wrote, "…We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." While that observation could aptly apply to a great deal of life, it's certainly true of dental health. Strong, healthy teeth and gums are largely the result of good oral habits started in early childhood.
Here are some important dental care habits you'll want to instill in your child, as well as yourself.
Practice and teach daily oral hygiene. Keeping your child's mouth clean helps prevent future dental disease. It should begin before teeth appear by wiping your baby's gums with a clean, wet cloth after every feeding to keep decay-causing bacteria from growing. Once teeth appear, switch to brushing with just a smear of toothpaste until age 2, when you can increase to a pea-sized amount. As your child matures, be sure to teach them to brush and floss for themselves, especially by modeling the behavior for them.
Begin dental visits early. Besides daily hygiene, regular professional dental care is one of the best habits for keeping healthy teeth and gums. Plan to begin your child's dental visits by age 1 when some of their teeth may have already come in. And by beginning early, it's more likely your child will view dental visits as a routine part of life, a habit they'll more likely continue into adulthood.
Keep your oral bacteria to yourself. Many strains of bacteria, especially harmful ones, don't occur spontaneously in a child's mouth. They come from the outside environment, most often from their parents or caregivers. To avoid transmitting disease-causing bacteria from you to your baby don't share eating utensils, don't lick a pacifier to clean it, and avoid kissing infants (whose immune systems are immature) on the mouth.
Encourage your teenager to avoid bad habits. Hopefully when your children reach adolescence, they've already developed good oral habits. But there are some bad habits you should also help your teen avoid. While piercings are a popular expression among this age group, teens should avoid tongue and lip bolts and other piercings that could damage teeth. A tobacco habit can also have negative consequences for dental health including increased decay or gum disease risk and cancer.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
Even though baby teeth are not meant to last forever, they serve some very important functions for the time they are around. Healthy baby teeth allow your child to bite and chew food, articulate sounds correctly during speech, and, of course, to smile! They also help guide the permanent teeth, which will one day replace them, into proper alignment. So it’s important to take good care of them while they’re here. Let’s answer some frequently asked questions about pediatric dentistry.
Can I get my teeth cleaned while I’m pregnant?
Yes — and you should! Both the American Dental Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that women keep up with their regular schedule of dental cleanings and exams during pregnancy. Not doing so can allow disease-causing oral bacterial to flourish, which can be a health risk for both the expectant mother and her fetus.
Do infants need their teeth brushed?
Yes, it’s important to start a daily oral hygiene routine as soon as the first baby tooth appears — usually sometime between six and nine months of age. Use a very soft-bristled child-sized toothbrush and just a smear of fluoride toothpaste (the size of a grain of rice). When your child turns 3, increase the amount of fluoride toothpaste to the size of a pea.
When should I take my child in for her first dental appointment?
The answer to this one may surprise you: All children should see a dentist by the age of 1. Early dental visits get children accustomed to having their mouths examined and their teeth cleaned. Establishing this healthy habit early will go a long way toward promoting a lifetime of good oral health.
Should I worry that my child sucks his thumb?
That depends on how old he is. Thumb sucking is a normal, comforting habit for babies and toddlers. Most outgrow it by the time they are 4. But kids who don’t are at increased risk for orthodontic issues later on. If your child seems unable to break the habit, let us know; we can give you more detailed recommendations at your next appointment.
What can I do to prevent my children from getting cavities?
Make sure your children have an effective daily oral hygiene routine that includes brushing with fluoride toothpaste twice a day and flossing at least once per day. If they are too young to do a good job by themselves, help them complete these important tasks. Keep their sugar consumption as low as possible; pay particular attention to beverages — soda, sports drinks and even 100 % natural fruit juices can all promote tooth decay. We can offer individualized advice on fighting cavities, and even provide fluoride treatments and dental sealants for extra protection against cavities. So don’t forget to bring your child in to the dental office for regular exams and cleanings!
Although primary (“baby”) teeth have a lifespan of only a few years, they’re still important to a child’s current and future dental health. In the present, they help a child eat, speak and smile properly. They also help create a healthy future as placeholders for developing permanent teeth yet to come in.
If, however, a child loses a primary tooth prematurely due to decay, the corresponding permanent tooth could come in misaligned. That’s why we do what we can to help a decayed primary tooth reach its full lifespan. And there are different ways to do this depending on the type of tooth.
With front teeth, which don’t encounter the same chewing forces as those in the back, we may use a tooth-colored filling. This approach is also preferable for appearance’s sake since front teeth are highly visible when a child speaks or smiles.
Primary molars, on the other hand, need a more robust solution. A filling may not be able to withstand the level of long-term chewing forces that these back teeth normally encounter. And because they’re less visible than front teeth, there’s less concern about aesthetics.
That’s why many pediatric dentists prefer stainless steel crowns for molars. Just like their permanent teeth counterparts, a primary crown fits over and completely covers a tooth. They’re typically pre-formed, coming in different shapes and sizes that can then be customized for the tooth in question. After preparing and removing any decayed material from the tooth, we can usually install the crown in one visit with local anesthesia and a sedative (if the child needs it for anxiety).
While a steel crown isn’t the most attractive restoration, it typically handles the higher chewing forces in the back of the mouth better and longer than a filling. That’s especially critical for primary molars, which are some of the last teeth to fall out (as late as ages 10-12). And besides preserving it as a permanent tooth placeholder, a crown also helps the tooth function effectively in the present.
Regardless of what method we use, though, preserving primary teeth is a primary goal of pediatric dentistry. And with a stainless steel crown, we can keep those important back molars functioning for as long as they’re intended.
If you would like more information on caring for primary teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stainless Steel Crowns for Kids.”
As a parent you’re concerned with a number of issues involving your child’s health, not the least of which involves their teeth. One of the most common is thumb-sucking.
While later thumb-sucking is a cause for concern, it’s quite normal and not viewed as harmful in infant’s and very young children. This universal habit is rooted in an infant swallowing pattern: all babies tend to push the tongue forward against the back of the teeth when they swallow, which allows them to form a seal while breast or bottle feeding. Infants and young children take comfort or experience a sense of security from sucking their thumb, which simulates infant feeding.
Soon after their primary teeth begin to erupt, the swallowing pattern changes and they begin to rest the tongue on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth when swallowing. For most children thumb sucking begins to fade as their swallowing pattern changes.
Some children, though, continue the habit longer even as their permanent teeth are beginning to come in. As they suck their thumb the tongue constantly rests between the front teeth, which over time may interfere with how they develop. This can cause an “open bite” in which the upper and lower teeth don’t meet properly, a problem that usually requires orthodontic treatment to correct it.
For this reason, dentists typically recommend encouraging children to stop thumb-sucking by age 3 (18-24 months to stop using a pacifier). The best approach is positive reinforcement — giving appropriate rewards over time for appropriate behavior: for example, praising them as a “big” boy or girl when they have gone a certain length of time without sucking their thumb or a pacifier. You should also use training or “Sippy” cups to help them transition from a bottle to a regular cup, which will further diminish the infant swallowing pattern and need for thumb-sucking.
Habits like thumb-sucking in young children should be kept in perspective: the habit really isn’t a problem unless it goes on too long. Gentle persuasion, along with other techniques we can help you with, is the best way to help your child eventually stop.
If you would like more information on thumb sucking, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Thumb Sucking in Children” and “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
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