By Megan Roessler | Illustrated by Holly Tyler
When it comes to caring for your kids’ teeth, it’s best to keep ahead of the game. “We’re always focused on prevention,” says Grace Wenham, pediatric dentist at Madison Pediatric Dental. She recommends starting regular dentist visits once teeth have erupted, usually age 1. It’s important to care for baby teeth, she says, because they “protect and hold space for developing teeth coming in.” Infection in a baby tooth, left untreated, can spread to the permanent tooth, Wenham explains.
Another key part of preventing dental problems is establishing good habits early. Clumsy kiddos can struggle with a number of things—one that might go unnoticed is tooth-brushing, which calls for more dexterity than we realize, especially when it comes to brushing teeth toward the back of the mouth. Eric teDuits, a pediatric dentist at the Children’s Dental Center of Madison, says an adult needs to help with brushing and flossing in the evening until the child is 8.
teDuits also suggests that parents serve milk and juice at mealtimes only, opting for water the rest of the day. Sugars in milk and juice can sit on teeth and provide a food source for aggressive bacteria that cause decay, he explains. teDuits paints a vivid picture—eating a cup of sugar in one sitting isn’t nearly as bad as eating a tablespoon every hour. “It’s not the amount of sugar as much as the frequency,” he says. By opting to serve water between meals and before bedtime, rather than milk or juice, parents can keep kids hydrated without the consistent sugar intake that can lead to decay.
teDuits also recommends parents avoid sharing drinking cups and eating utensils with their children, in order to prevent the transmission of bacteria. A father of five, teDuits knows that life around the house can get chaotic. “You can’t always keep that from happening,” he says, “it’s easier said than done.”
If cavities do occur and are caught while they’re still small, they may be treated with an application of silver diamine fluoride, rather than a filling, Wenham says. Early intervention can also help correct alignment before larger problems develop. “Coming in routinely every six months can prevent orthodontic problems in the future,” she says.
Good health in kids’ teeth requires both professional care and good habits at home. When patients come in for a cleaning, teDuits calls the appointment a reminder, rather than a follow-up. “I can clean all the teeth in the world,” he says, but there’s no substitute for day-to-day effort.