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What Should You Know About Your Child’s Oral Health?

When should you take your child to the dentist? How can you protect against kids' cavities? WebMD asked an expert.
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WebMD Feature

When your baby is born, you quickly fall into a rhythm of regular visits with your pediatrician that continues throughout childhood. But many parents are more confused about taking their child to the dentist and caring for their teeth.

WebMD asked Natasha Mathias, DDS, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry in Montclair, N.J., to answer some of the most common questions she hears from parents -- and some questions she wishes parents would ask, but don’t!

Should my child see a pediatric dentist? 

This is the most common question I get. “Why can’t I just take my child to my own dentist?” For the same reason you don’t take your child to your own internist -- you take her to a pediatrician. Children are not miniature adults. Their bodies are very different, and so are their teeth. A pediatric dentist has expertise in those differences. 

Why should I take my toddler to the dentist when his baby teeth will just fall out anyway? 

We may lose our primary teeth eventually, but their health is very important to our oral health over the long term. Once a baby tooth gets bacteria in there, it progresses pretty quickly, seeping through the tooth and going to the bone and potentially causing dental infections that can even be fatal. That’s the worst consequence. But even if that doesn’t happen, if bacteria lurk in the baby teeth, the enamel for the adult teeth may not be formed properly and they can be permanently damaged.

How much fluoride does my child need? How much is too much? 

Optimum fluoride levels in the water, we know from research, are about one part per million. If it’s more than that, it’s a problem and can lead to fluorosis --discoloration of the teeth. If it’s much less than that, it’s not enough to protect the teeth. You can find out how much fluoride is in your water by calling your municipal water supplier, or buying a water testing kit online. If you live in an area where the water isn’t fluoridated, your pediatrician or pediatric dentist can give you a prescription for fluoride supplements.

When should I take my child to the dentist for the first time? 

When they get their first tooth or reach their first birthday, whichever is earlier. Many people are shocked that it’s so early. The older guideline was age three, just because that’s when general dentists found they could manage a child. But at three, we often find that damage has already been done from baby bottle tooth decay or cavities.

How should I prepare my child for his first visit to the dentist? 

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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