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Help Your Kids Keep Cavities Away

Tooth decay affects children in the U.S. more than any other chronic infectious disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Untreated tooth decay causes pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing and learning. The good news is that tooth decay and other oral diseases that can affect children are preventable.

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. Help your child maintain a super smile and healthy teeth by teaching them about good oral health habits with these 10 cavity-fighting tips from the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH).

  1. Visit the dentist twice a year. Take your child regularly once they reach their first birthday. These visits are designed to help prevent, catch and treat problems if they occur. For parents who don’t have dental insurance or can’t afford routine dental care for their children, TDH offers a statewide dental health prevention program that provides screenings for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade. TDH offers 42 public health dental clinics in 41 rural counties and in five of the six metropolitan regions in Tennessee. Find a dental facility near you here.
  2. Watch what kids eat and drink. Encourage kids to eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Limit snacking between meals. Avoid sugary snacks and sugary drinks. Instead, encourage your child to drink more water, especially fluoridated water. Find out the fluoride level of Tennessee’s drinking water from the CDC’s “My Water’s Fluoride” websitewebsite. Also, don’t let a young child go to bed with a bottle of milk, formula or juice—when sugars from those drinks stay on teeth overnight, the chances for decay go up.
  3. Use fluoride toothpaste. Once your child is about 2 years old, you can use a small amount of fluoridated toothpaste—about the size of a pea. Too much fluoride can cause white spots to appear on your child’s teeth, so teach them to rinse their mouth thoroughly and spit out any excess toothpaste. The combination of dental sealants and fluoride has the potential to nearly eliminate tooth decay in school-age children, says the CDC.
  4. Teach the right brushing technique. Teach your child to brush their teeth two times a day, especially after breakfast and before bedtime. You will need to brush for them until they are old enough to handle the toothbrush on their own, usually around age 6. Even then, it’s a good idea to supervise them to be sure they are brushing properly. Remind your child that it’s important to clean all teeth, not just those up front. Brush all tooth surfaces (top, front and back) using short, gentle strokes. Pay special attention to back teeth and along the gumline, turning the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle. And don’t forget to brush your tongue. Brushing the tongue helps remove bacteria and keep breath fresh.
  5. Brush together. Get into the habit of brushing together, demonstrating proper technique and talking about the importance of dental health. Set a timer or have your child brush along to a special song to be sure they are brushing for at least two to three minutes at a time.
  6. Don’t neglect baby teeth. Baby teeth help children learn to speak and chew naturally, but they also hold the place for permanent teeth. Get into the habit of cleaning your baby’s teeth and gums using a clean, damp cloth or an infant toothbrush. No toothpaste is needed for an infant—plain water will do the job just fine. For kids over 2 years old, always use a toothbrush with soft bristles. Learn more about caring for your child’s teeth from infancy through adolescence from the TDH here.
  7. Clean regularly between your teeth with dental floss. As soon as your child has two teeth that are touching, it’s time to introduce dental floss. Daily flossing is an essential part of the tooth cleaning process. Flossing removes plaque between teeth and at the gumline, where gum disease often begins. Look for flossing picks and other products designed especially for kids.
  8. Brush after meals. Plaque is an invisible, sticky film of bacteria or germs that lives on your teeth. These bacteria love sugars and starches found in many foods. If you don't clean your teeth after eating, plaque bacteria can use the sugar and starch to produce acids that destroy the hard surface of the tooth, known as enamel. Over time, tooth decay develops. Brushing after meals helps prevent tooth decay. If you are unable to brush, you should rinse with water or an antibacterial mouthwash immediately after eating to remove loose food particles.
  9. Make brushing fun. Let your child “practice” brushing on a favorite doll or stuffed animal. You might even let them try brushing your teeth. Let your child help choose a toothbrush in their favorite color or featuring their favorite cartoon character. You can also look for different flavors of toothpaste, as long as it contains fluoride if they are age 2 or older. You can also download free, fun educational games, puzzles and coloring sheets related to dental health from TDH and the American Dental Association.
  10. Always wear a mouth guard when playing sports. A mouth guard works as a shock absorber to cushion the mouth from the effects of a blow to the head, face or neck. It also protects teeth from fractures and holds the tongue, lips and cheeks away from the teeth to avoid lacerations.