A Brush Up on Dental Care – By Dr. Mary Tierney, Pediatric Dentist

Being a parent and worrying about your child is a full time job! Luckily, most cavities are preventable!
Here are five tips to help your child develop a happy, healthy smile and put them on the road to good overall health.

1. Appoint your child for a “Well Baby” dental exam. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that every child visit the dentist by his/her first birthday (and, no, that’s not too young). An infant’s first dental visit should be a pleasant, non-threatening introduction to dentistry which includes a brief but thorough oral examination and provides individualized prevention counseling to parents to help keep their child cavity free. This “well baby check” for the teeth can establish a dental home and helps ensure that the child’s oral health is delivered in a comprehensive, ongoing, coordinated and family centered way by the dentist. As the children grow their visits will become more clinical and progress to traditional “check-ups.” By starting at an early age your dentist can help prevent problems and teach good dental habits that will last a lifetime.

2. Prevent baby bottle, sippy cup and food pouch tooth decay. If your child relies on a bottle during bedtimes or at naps, make sure you use only water in the bottle. Never allow a baby or toddler to fall asleep with a bottle that contains milk (including breast milk), formula, fruit juices, or sweetened liquids. Even diluted drinks can be damaging. Bacteria in the mouth change the sugar in drinks and foods into acid that attacks the teeth. While the baby sleeps, the flow of saliva decreases. Harmful sugary liquids collect and remain around the teeth, inviting prolonged acids attacks. In the same way, if you offer a bottle, sippy cup or food pouches containing sugary contents, many times a day, or in a way that their use is prolonged, you increase the number of acid attacks and their duration. What is important is how often and for how long your child’s teeth are exposed to decay-producing acids.

3. Practice good cleansing habits. To prevent decay, after feedings, you can wipe your baby’s gums with tooth wipes that contain Xylitol. Begin brushing your child’s teeth with water on a child sized soft toothbrush as soon as the first tooth appears. Also, be aware that a mother’s good habits can significantly impact her child’s risk for tooth decay. Infants take on their first oral bacteria with the eruption of the primary tooth within a window from 6 months to 30 months. The bacteria are usually transferred from mother to infant. A healthy mouth will have less problem bacteria to transfer.

Most children will start a fluoride paste after 2 years and by 3 years of age. Help your child brush and be sure to use only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Teach them to spit out toothpaste and to rinse with water. Toddlers should be encouraged to help brush their teeth as soon as they can hold a brush. Parents should brush preschoolers’ teeth and supervise the brushing for school-aged children until they are 8 years of age. Brush kids’ teeth for 2 minutes, 2 times a day and don’t delegate too early. Preschoolers’ may brush longer if they use a sand timer, a light up or singing toothbrush, or a brushing song. Ask your pediatric dentist when to start flossing your child’s teeth.

4. Check that your tape water contains Fluoride. Fluoride has been proven to prevent tooth decay, as well as to reverse the early decay process and create a tooth surface that is more resistant to decay causing acids. Ingested fluoride has been shown to reduce cavities between 40 to 50% in the primary teeth and 50 to 60% in the permanent teeth. However, patients who consume bottled or filtered water may not be getting enough fluoride to help prevent decay. Reverse osmosis filters can filter out fluoride from water. And, unless specifically marked, bottled water contains no fluoride. Look for nursery water or bottled waters that state they include fluoride.

5. Avoid sticky gummy foods and gummy vitamins. These sugars pack into the grooves on teeth and stick in between the teeth. They are not easily washed off the teeth by saliva or water. They have great cavity-causing potential. Chocolate, ice cream, cheese, yogurt, pudding pops, or popsicles are better treats. They melt or wash away more easily. Try a vitamin that melts-in-the-mouth – these go down quickly and do not stick to teeth. They are sweetened with Xylitol which dentists recommend.


Dr. Mary Tierney is the founder of City Kids Dental, PC and the co-founder of City Kids Dental North Shore, LLC. Dr. Mary is a board certified Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry, a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and a licensed Pediatric Dental Specialist by the State of Illinois. Dr. Tierney earned a BS in Biology from the University of Michigan in 1989 and a DDS from Northwestern University School of Dentistry in 1993. She completed a MS in Pediatric Dentistry from the University of Michigan in 1995. Dr. Tierney has spent 17 years in private practice, as well as time teaching clinical pediatric dentistry as an adjunct clinical professor of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Michigan and as a dental attending at The Children’s Memorial Hospital of Chicago.

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