5 Things You Need to Know About Pediatric Dental Care

“You want to have kids avoid gummy bears, jelly beans and fruit roll ups,” says chairman of URMC’s division of pediatric dentistry

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Dentist Sean McLaren is the chairman of pediatric dentistry at University of Rochester Medical Center.
Dentist Sean McLaren is the chairman of pediatric dentistry at University of Rochester Medical Center.

Cavities are one of the most common chronic childhood diseases in the United States. About one in five children aged 5 to 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth, while one in seven adolescents aged 12 to 19 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Often this occurs because tooth care was not as vigorously done during their younger stages of life.

“The importance of oral health simply cannot be underestimated,” said dentist Sean McLaren, chairman of pediatric dentistry at University of Rochester Medical Center.

McLaren offers five tips to early tooth care.

1. Early maintenance

Many parents believe their role in their child’s oral care begins when beginnings of the first tooth start appearing. However, there is work to be done before. A few simple routines after the first feeding and before they go to sleep can help wash out food, sugar and any bacteria that begins when they eat solid foods.

“You want to start practicing good oral care before the first tooth arrives. Use a wet washcloth and clean around the gums two to three times a day so your baby can get used to brushing,” said McLaren, who is also a board-certified pediatric dentist. “Once the first tooth starts to erupt, usually six months in, is when you want to start introducing toothpaste.”

2. Fluoride use

Fluoride varnish can prevent about 33% of cavities in baby’s teeth, according to the CDC. Children living in communities with fluoridated tap water have fewer cavities than children whose water does not contain fluoride. Fluoride in water is the most efficient way to prevent one of the most common childhood diseases; tooth decay. The American Dental Association estimated 51 million school hours and 164 million work hours are lost each year due to dental-related illness. Some fluoride is also naturally present in groundwater and the oceans.

“Fluoride is often recognized as one of the top measures for tooth decay prevention,” said McLaren. “You should brush your child’s teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride in water is truly a public health benefit.”

3. Wear a mouthguard

Without a mouth guard, there is potential for a collision that could cause teeth to be broken, knocked out or chipped. Tooth protection may also aid in preventing immediate or future expensive dental care.

“We see a lot of dental injuries with kids that play contact sports,” said McLaren. “You have people being elbowed in sports where there is constant action. You can either get a custom mouth guard or a generic one that protects your teeth.”

McLaren adds that a mouthguard is useful for more than just your teeth. “A guard can protect your bottom jaw from colliding with your top jaw and lessen the force of the blow. That has been known to decrease concussions since the top jaw is not moving upward in the mouth and affecting the brain.”

4. Healthly diet

Eating the wrong foods continues to be a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. But making incorrect choices with your diet also has a ripple effect with your oral health.

“You want to make sure you are careful with sugar, sticky food and dried fruit because they stick to your teeth, cause tooth decay and cavities. You want to have kids avoid gummy bears, jelly beans and fruit roll ups,” added McLaren. “Stay away from juices with a lot of sugar or even chocolate milk. You can’t go wrong with water.”

5. Visit your doctor and floss

Regular visits to your dentist for teeth cleanings every six months can help early detection of potential problems. Experts want people to floss once a day when they are young and continue that into adulthood. It prevents food and other particles from being trapped within the barriers. Make sure to floss between and around each tooth. Gently hook the floss like a C around the tooth. Slide the floss up and down and around all tooth surfaces, even the hard-to-reach back molars. Avoid snapping the floss between teeth.

“Visiting your dentist will also help you clear up any myths. My mom used to tell me she had soft teeth which is pretty rare for someone. Cavity is the main bacteria that erodes teeth,” said McLaren. “You can have some heredity problems when it comes to your teeth so you want to be aware of your family history.”