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Ask the Expert: Getting Started Early With Good Oral Hygiene

When my preschooler got her first cavity, I was dismayed. But I knew I was to blame -- she is a stubborn kid, and often I let her brush her own teeth, and we certainly never flossed. I just didn't realize the implications. So I asked our dentist Dr. Melissa Jentz-Cote of Geneva Family Dental (also a Go West sponsor) to write a column about why it's so important to take care of your kid's teeth as soon as they appear. - Tara

Another school year is starting and dental exams are mandatory for kindergarten, second, and sixth graders. 

Photo by JMaz Photo on Flickr.It is such an exciting time for both parents and children starting kindergarten, but unfortunately we find many cavities at what is sometimes a child’s first dental exam ever.  In some fearful children this can lead to dental phobias that can carry into adulthood. 

Everyone wants the child to have a healthy dental check up at every dental visit. This is definitely possible, but the hard work must start at home.  Many parents do not take oral hygiene with their young children seriously. 

Starting with the first tooth that erupts into the mouth, parents should be diligently brushing their babies’ teeth twice a day. In some children this can be as early as three months old! 

Starting early gets the child used to brushing and can turn into good habits as an older child and into an adult. Many parents do not know that formula and breast milk contain sugars that promote tooth decay. That is why a baby should never be put to bed with a bottle. This milk sits on the teeth and causes cavities at a very young age. 

Sometimes these teeth become so decayed that the baby teeth are not able to be saved, and the child must undergo sedation to have multiple tooth extractions.

We hear all the time from parents, “Who cares? They are only baby teeth.”  But there are many reasons why the baby teeth are important. 

Baby teeth are place holders for the permanent teeth; if one is lost too early the baby teeth can shift and drift, causing the adult teeth to be blocked out of the correct eruption pattern. 

Baby teeth with large decay can lead to infected teeth that if left untreated can affect the overall health of the child. Infection in the mouth does not stay in the mouth, it travels through the bloodstream to the rest of the body and can affect any vital organ. 

Plus, any large cavity can cause your child a lot of pain and can become an annoying food trap. 

These scenarios can all be avoided if you start your child off right with daily oral hygiene that you do together: 

  • A young baby must be brushed twice a day by a parent with a fluoride-free toothpaste. 
  • A toddler who can not spit out toothpaste should use a fluoride-free toothpaste and have a parent do the brushing twice a day along with the toddler taking his or her turn, too.
  • If both sets of molars are present and/or the baby teeth are close together, flossing should be done once a day by the parent. 
  • Once a child can spit out the toothpaste, a fluoride toothpaste can be used, but not swallowed. A parent should still be brushing for the child at least once a day and flossing should be done every day.

A young child needs help with brushing and flossing up until 8 to 10 years of age.  Even after that age, a parent should check the child to make sure he is doing a good job brushing and flossing. Daily reminders are also helpful to keep your child on track to great oral hygiene. 

The American Dental Association recommends that all patients be seen by their dentist twice a year to check for cavities, have their teeth professionally cleaned, and to review oral hygiene techniques.  Your dentist and hygienist are always there to answer any questions about your oral health and to provide you tips on how to keep your mouth healthy. 

By starting these good habits of brushing and flossing early and helping your child understand the importance of keeping her teeth healthy, you can avoid cavities and dental problems from the start! 

Dr. Melissa Jentz-Cote grew up in Buffalo Grove and spent 10 years as an associate at a large, busy practice in Lake Zurich. She and her husband Mike moved to Geneva to start her own practice because she wanted a deeper connection with her community and they loved the small-town charm of the Fox Valley. Their daughter Jordan is nearly 2 years old. 

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