As a responsible parent, you know early childhood is the time to form habits that put your child on the road to healthy teeth. You practice proper brushing with them (twice a day, two minutes each). You work on good dietary choices (less sugar and more well-balanced nutrition). And you take them for regular checkups with the dentist (from the time their first teeth appeared). Good work! You’re covering all the right bases.
Tooth decay and damage is a sneaky foe, though, and can be found lurking in unexpected places. Consider the following common practices that may be working against all your best efforts.
It may surprise you to learn that cavity-causing bacteria can be transferred from person to person. The bacteria, which metabolizes sugar to produce corrosive acid, is carried in saliva. That means that when you “clean” your child’s pacifier by putting it in your own mouth first, or when you use the same utensil to taste food before feeding them, you’re potentially passing on harmful microbes. If you’ve got cavities or have recently undergone treatment for tooth decay, use your own utensils, and rinse the pacifier in the sink before giving it to your toddler.
Having a bottle or sippy cup can be a comfort to babies and toddlers when they go down for a nap. But letting your child suck on a bottle of milk, formula, or juice as they drift off can actually be harmful. All these fluids contain sugar, which ends up sitting on the child’s teeth as they sleep. The sugar feeds the bacteria in their mouth, resulting in acid, and the prolonged exposure increases the risk of tooth decay. Let babies and toddlers finish their bed or naptime bottles before you put them down.
Too Much Toothpaste
The American Dental Association suggests you start using fluoride toothpaste for children as soon as their first teeth appear—typically around 6 months. They formerly advised waiting until children turned 2, but an increase in cavities in children ages 5 and younger led to the new recommendation. Fluoride helps prevent cavities, but too much can cause fluorosis, which can lead to brown spots or discoloration of the teeth. Limit the amount of toothpaste used for babies who are incapable of spitting after brushing and toddlers who may be tempted by the sweet and fruity flavors of many kids’ toothpastes. The ADA recommends a small smear of paste on an appropriately sized toothbrush for babies, and a pea-sized dot for children ages 3-6.
Get Them Started Right
Sneaky habits can expose your kids’ teeth to early decay and undermine your efforts at good dental hygiene. Set them up for success by being aware of best practices so they get the most out of their formative years.