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Care and Prevention

Keys to good oral health

  1. Visit your dentist regularly.
  2. Brush your teeth using fluoride toothpaste for at least two minutes, two times a day.
  3. Floss between your teeth daily.
  4. Drink fluoridated water or give fluoride supplements to children.
  5. Have dental sealants applied.
  6. Choose healhty snacks like fruits, vegetables and cheese.
  7. Avoid juice and sugar-sweetened beverages.
  8. Wear a mouth guard while playing sports.
  9. Avoid tobacco products, including spit tobacco.

In addition to following the basic guidelines for good oral health, infants and children require special care and attention. According to the Surgeon General, dental decay (cavities) is the most common chronic disease of childhood.

Start brushing early

The most important thing is to teach proper oral health habits in the early years.

Baby to age 3 

  • Clean your baby's mouth and gums with a cloth or soft toothbrush after every feeding.
  • As teeth begin to break through the gums, use a smear of fluoride toothpaste twice a day.
  • It is best to clean them right after breakfast and before bedtime.

Child ages 3 and older 

  • Increase the amount of fluoride toothpaste to a pea-sized amount.pea
  • Brush twice a day for at least two minutes with fluoride toothpaste.

All ages

  • You will need to help your child brush their teeth until they are at least 7 or 8 years old.
  • Teach your child to spit out toothpaste and not swallow it after brushing.

Choosing a toothbrush

  • Choose the right toothbrush for your child's age.
  • Choose one with soft bristles.
  • Replace a toothbrush when the bristles are worn or about two to three months.

Visit a dental professional

Your child should begin visiting a dental professional around his or her first birthday. Your child's oral health care professional will check oral hygiene and the development of your child's teeth, and will suggest a schedule of regular visits.

Infant feeding tips
  • Always hold your baby during bottle or breast feedings.
  • Never prop the bottle or leave it in the crib or bed with your child. Allowing a child to suck freely on a bottle can lead to baby bottle tooth decay. If you do, use water only.
  • Introduce a cup at 6 months of age, and wean your baby from the bottle at 12-18 months old.
  • Encourage rinsing the mouth out with water after giving your baby food or sugary juice.

Child Feeding Tips

  • Avoid sweet, sticky snacks (fruit leather, candy).
  • Limit sugary juice.
  • Only give soda, candy and other sweets for special occasions.
  • Choose fresh fruits, vegetables or whole grain snacks.

Dental sealants

Dental sealants are thin liquid coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of your child's teeth. Ask your dental professional to determine if sealant applications would benefit your child. Dental sealants prevent about 40%-75% of decay in the treated teeth for about nine years. ​

Learn more

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Tooth development (in the form of tooth buds) generally appears in the fetus in the fifth or sixth week of pregnancy. Teeth begin to form in the fetus shortly thereafter.

Nutrition and oral health

Nutrition is very important during pregnancy, because your baby gets nutrients from your system. By eating right, you can start caring for your teeth and your baby's teeth as soon as you find out you are pregnant. Be sure to include foods with calcium and Vitamin D in your diet. It is important to snack less often, or eat sweets at the end of meals instead of between meals.

Visit a dental professional

It is important to see your dentist during your pregnancy to prevent dental problems. Be sure to make a dental appointment before your baby is born. Even though your baby has not yet arrived, you are building the foundation for healthy teeth. Your dental health can affect your child; if you have cavity-causing germs, these germs are more likely to be passed on to your baby.

Dental problems during pregnancy

Some women have dental problems during pregnancy. Hormonal changes can make your gums sore, swollen, and likely to bleed. Brushing and flossing your teeth daily can prevent this. Having your teeth cleaned by a dentist or dental hygienist early in your pregnancy may help prevent most gum problems.

If you need to have emergency dental care during your pregnancy, you may need to have x-rays taken of your teeth. Always be sure to remind your dental care staff of your pregnancy. Care should be taken to limit or avoid nitrous oxide, some prescribed antibiotics, and some pain medications. Your dentist can contact your obstetrician/doctor with any questions.​

Research has indicated that monitoring a person's oral health can aid early identification of certain chronic medical conditions. People with certain pre-existing medical conditions, including pregnant women, require special treatment and attention to oral health.

Heart Disease and Stroke

Cardiovascular disease, primarily heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death for men and women in the Unites States, accounting for 40% of all deaths. Research has suggested that people with periodontal disease (gum disease) may be more likely to develop heart disease or stroke. Gum disease may also cause existing heart conditions to worsen.

Diabetes

Oral health can be a significant complicating factor for individuals with diabetes. Periodontal problems can complicate the management of diabetes and poorly controlled diabetes may also worsen gum disease. Studies have shown that individuals with Type I or Type II diabetes are more susceptible to gum disease, and that individuals with Type I or Type II diabetes can suffer from greater tooth loss than people without diabetes. Severe gum disease can increase blood sugar levels, putting people with diabetes at risk for additional diabetes-related complications.

HIV

The health status of people with HIV is likely to be complicated, and can change rapidly. If you are infected with HIV, it is important that your dental professional receive all the necessary medical information to make the correct decisions regarding your dental care. Your dental professional may have specific concerns relating to infections, drug interactions, stoppage of blood flow, and your ability to tolerate certain dental treatments.

Obesity

The link between oral health and poor nutrition, particularly excessive eating of sugary food and beverages, may have important implications on the rising amounts of obesity among children and adolescents in the United States. Recently, several states have begun to focus attention on the connections between increased soda consumption, rising rates of dental cavities, and obesity among children and adolescents. Heavy consumption of soft drinks can lead to cavities and tooth erosion. Such consumption is also tied to excessive intake of sugar, which may be associated with obesity and Type II diabetes in children.

Oral Cancer

Risk factors for oral cancer include smoking, excessive alcohol use, and a family history of cancer. Oral cancer can also develop in people with none of these risk factors. Indicators of oral cancer include lesions or sores in the mouth that do not heal normally, or lumps in the mouth or cheek. Your dental professional can easily and painlessly check you mouth for signs of oral cancer, particularly if you have any of the risk factors mentioned above.

Low Birth Weight

Research has shown that pregnant women with gum disease are more likely to have children with preterm low birth weight.

Pregnancy

Find more information on oral health care for pregnant women.


See Also

Teeth can be fractured, dislocated, or lost from the socket. Injuries to the teeth and bones supporting the teeth are most commonly caused by accidents. Using safety belts, car safety seats, bike helmets, and mouth guards can help prevent injuries to the head, face, mouth, teeth, oral tissues, and jaws. Baby gates placed at both the top and bottom of stairs can prevent accidental falls by infants and toddlers. Baby walkers are frequent causes of oral injury and use of baby walkers is discouraged.


When children begin to engage in athletic and recreational activities, a mouth guard can be worn to reduce the chance of oral injury. It is estimated that mouth guards prevent between 100,000 to 200,000 oral injuries each year.

Oral trauma requires immediate medical attention. A primary tooth that has been completely knocked out is not likely to be replaced, as there is potential for damage to the permanent tooth. If a permanent tooth has been knocked completely out, the best treatment is to reinsert the tooth at the time of injury. If the tooth is not able to be reinserted, the tooth should be placed in milk and brought to the dentist immediately for replacement in the mouth.​​

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