February is National Child’s Dental Health Month, and I thought I’d extract fact from fiction when it comes to your young infant’s and child’s teeth, and in doing so, fill your dental knowledge cavity.
For example, a common myth is that sugar directly causes cavities. Actually, sugar feeds the bacteria in your mouth and allows them to thrive. The increased bacteria produce large amounts of acid that breaks down teeth, unless you keep them clean via going over them with a wet washcloth for an infant, or if it’s a toddler, using a soft toothbrush.
Another myth is that parents think they don’t need their infant or toddler to see a dentist until all the baby teeth are in or they see a cavity forming. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend a dental checkup as soon as the first tooth comes in or by year 1. This is to make sure the teeth are coming in properly and there aren’t signs of decay in spots you cannot see, such as between or behind teeth.
It’s also commonly thought that baby teeth aren’t that important compared to adult teeth. Actually, when a baby tooth is lost too early, the permanent tooth comes in too quickly, fills the empty space and blocks and pushes other teeth in that small mouth so they appear crooked or crowded, making orthodontic work probably a necessity when it need not necessarily be.
Finally, parents want to know if brushing is more important than flossing. Flossing, even at an early age, is more effective at cleaning out food particles that get stuck between teeth than brushing—so flossing can and should start with your toddler at the same time you are teaching them how to brush.
Hopefully tips like this will provide more than a mouthful of information when it comes to knowing fact versus fiction and ensuring the good health of your infant’s or young child’s teeth.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.