As a new parent, one of your many responsibilities is caring for your baby’s oral health. Strong, healthful baby teeth help your child chew food easily, aid in speech and allow “permanent” teeth to develop into a healthful smile to last for a lifetime.
Caries, also known as decay, is a preventable disease. With the help of dental professionals, decay can be prevented.
It has been shown that dental caries is an infectious disease. Infants get cavity-causing bacteria most often from their mothers.
In addition to these bacteria, two other factors are needed for cavities to form: teeth and sugar. The sugars we eat feed these bacteria (part of plaque — the fuzzy film on your teeth). As plaque grows on the tooth surface, it releases acid that eats the enamel away.
To prevent transmitting bacteria that cause cavities:
• Make sure everyone in your family practices good dental hygiene. Brushing at least twice a day and flossing once a day reduces the risk of cavities and lowers the chances of passing cavity-causing bacteria to young ones.
• Keep your child’s fingers out of anyone else’s mouth.
• Feeding utensils and cups for your baby should never touch anyone else’s mouth first.
• Everyone in your family should have his or her own toothbrush — never share.
Here are some steps to avoid tooth decay:
• Use fluoride (fluoridated toothpaste, fluoride supplements). Fluoride strengthens teeth. Check with your child’s physician or dentist to see if you need more.
• Eat well. Include whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Avoid foods high in sugar such as pastries, pasta and white bread. Do not put your infant or small child to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, juice or other product that contains sugar. The sugar and acids in these liquids can cause tooth decay.
• Avoid tobacco. Tobacco smoke may contribute to the development of tooth decay, gum disease and other health issues. As your child grows, teach him or her about the dangers of smoking.
• Start cleaning your child’s teeth with a soft cloth or gauze pad as soon as the first tooth comes in. As more teeth erupt, clean teeth with a soft toothbrush twice a day.
• See a dentist. Children who begin to see a dentist by age one have a better chance of being cavity-free as adults.
Children do what they see grownups do. If parents brush and floss every day and go to the dentist regularly, their children are more likely to have healthful teeth.
Amanda Hellum is a registered dental hygienist at the dental offices of Dr. Wendy Alpaugh and Brian van Emmerik in Stonington.