It is very important to maintain the health of the primary teeth. Neglected cavities can - and frequently do - lead to problems which negatively affect developing permanent teeth. Primary teeth, or baby-teeth, are important for (1) proper chewing and eating, (2) providing space for permanent teeth and guiding them into the correct position, and (3) permitting normal development of the jaw bones and muscles. Primary teeth also affect the development of speech and add to an attractive appearance. While the front 4 teeth last until 6-7 years of age, the back teeth (cuspids and molars) aren’t replaced until age 10-13.
Good oral hygiene removes bacteria and left-over food particles that combine with enzymes in the mouth to create cavities. For infants, use wet gauze or a clean washcloth to wipe plaque from their teeth and gums. Avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle filled with anything other than water. For older children, brush their teeth at least twice a day. Also, monitor the number of snacks containing sugar that you give your children.
Begin daily brushing as soon as the child’s first tooth erupts. A pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste can be used after the child is old enough not to swallow it. By age 4 or 5, children should be able to brush their own teeth twice a day with supervision until about age seven to make sure they are doing a thorough job. However, each child is different. Your dentist can help you determine whether the child has the skill level to brush properly. Proper brushing removes plaque from the inner, outer and chewing surfaces. When teaching children to brush, place toothbrush at a 45 degree angle; start along gum line with a soft bristle brush in a gentle, circular motion. Brush the outer surfaces of each tooth, upper and lower. Repeat the same method on the inside surfaces and chewing surfaces of all the teeth. Finish by brushing the tongue to help freshen breath and remove bacteria. Flossing removes plaque between the teeth where a toothbrush can’t reach. Flossing should begin when any two teeth touch. You may wish to floss the child’s teeth until he or she can do it alone. Use about 18 inches of floss, winding most of it around the middle fingers of both hands. Hold the floss lightly between the thumbs and forefingers. Use a gentle, back-and-forth motion to guide the floss between the teeth. Curve the floss into a C-shape and slide it into the space between the gum and tooth until you feel resistance. Gently scrape the floss against the side of the tooth. Repeat this procedure on each tooth. Don’t forget the backs of the last four teeth!
Healthy eating habits lead to healthy teeth. Like the rest of the body, the teeth, bones and the soft tissues of the mouth need a well-balanced diet. Children should eat a variety of foods from the five major food groups. Most snacks that children eat can lead to cavity formation. The more frequently a child snacks, the greater the chance for tooth decay. How long food remains in the mouth also plays a role. For example, hard candy and breath mints stay in the mouth a long time, which cause longer acid attacks on tooth enamel. If your child must snack, choose nutritious foods such as vegetables, low-fat yogurt, and low-fat cheese which are healthier and better for children’s teeth.
We hope that you find these charts useful to help you and your child maintain positive dental habits at home.