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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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Present it as something fun and exciting, and as a sign that he is growing up. Tell your child that we will “count,” “brush,” and “take pictures” of his/her teeth. By explaining the exam and the cleaning in these terms, your child will better understand the situation. Avoid negative words such as “hurt,” “drill,” “pull,” and “shot.” Don’t tell your child, “The dentist won’t hurt you” -- this may never have entered his mind in the first place! Reassure him that the dentist and staff will be gentle and friendly. 

What should my child eat and drink to protect his teeth? 

This is one of those questions parents don’t ask me, but I wish they would! First, don’t give your child juice all the time, especially the juice boxes. Most of them are not nutritious. If your child must have juice, follow the 1-2-3 rule: only one cup of juice a day, along with two glasses of milk and three glasses of water. The best snacks for a child are those that don’t come in a plastic package: fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, milk, yogurt, and cheese. Don’t peel your child’s apples and other fruit --the edible peels are where most of the nutrients come from, and they help to scrub the teeth.

When is my child ready for “real” toothpaste? 

As soon as they’re old enough to spit -- usually around age three. Once they’re in enough control to be potty trained, they have enough control to spit out fluoridated toothpaste. “Children’s” toothpastes are like training wheels -- they can’t do much harm. But they also aren’t all that useful. Make sure your child brushes his teeth after breakfast, not before, so they start the day with a clean mouth. And after brushing teeth at night, nothing else to eat or drink except water.

When do I need to wean my child from thumb sucking or using a pacifier? 

Prolonged pacifier or thumb sucking can deform a child’s upper dental arch and cause things like crossbite and protruding teeth. Children should be weaned from the habit by no later than 2 ½ or 3 years old. At that point, if any damage has been done to their bite by the sucking, we can usually undo it without too much difficulty. But if they get much past three and aren’t stopping, braces will have to fix it at some point later on.

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Reviewed on March 01, 2010

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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