It is hard to imagine that a very thin plastic coating that you cannot even see can do so much to protect your child’s teeth. But that’s what the thin coating called a dental sealant does when applied to the grooves on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. The sealant protects those teeth by keeping germs and food particles from getting trapped there. And that helps prevent tooth decay. Sealants are typically applied to the first and second permanent molars right after they erupt.
Getting sealants applied is quick and easy. After the tooth is cleaned, a special gel is placed on the chewing surface for a few seconds. Next the tooth is washed off and dried. Then the sealant is painted on the tooth. The dentist may shine a light on the tooth to help harden the sealant. It takes about one minute for the sealant to form a protective shield.
A sealant can last 5 to 10 years.
Sealants are part of a child’s total preventive dental care program. A complete program includes fluoride, brushing twice each day, wise food choices, and regular dental care.
Good dental care beginsbeforea baby’s first tooth appears. Just because you can’t see the teeth doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Here’s when and how to care for those little choppers:
Even before your baby starts teething, run a clean, damp washcloth over the gums to clear away harmful bacteria.
Once your baby gets teeth, brush them with an infant toothbrush. Use water and a tiny bit of fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice). Use fluoride toothpaste that carries the American Dental Association’s (ADA) seal of acceptance. (If you are using baby toothpaste without the fluoride, keep it to the same amount because you still want to minimize any toothpaste that is swallowed.)
Once your baby’s teeth touch, you can begin flossing in between them.
Around age 2, your child should learn to spit while brushing. Avoid giving your child water to swish and spit because this might make swallowing toothpaste more likely.
Kids ages 3 and up should use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
Always supervise kids younger than 6 while brushing, as they are more likely to swallow toothpaste.
Even babies can develop tooth decay if good feeding habits aren’t practiced. Putting a baby to sleep with a bottle might be convenient, but can harm the baby’s teeth. When the sugars from juice or milk remain on a baby’s teeth for hours, they can eat away at the enamel, creating a condition known as bottle mouth. Pocked, pitted, or discolored front teeth are signs of bottle mouth. Kids with severe cases might develop cavities and need all of their front teeth pulled (permanent teeth will grow in later).
Visiting the Dentist
It is recommended that children see a dentist by their first birthday. At this first visit, the dentist will explain proper brushing and flossing techniques and do a modified exam while your baby sits on your lap.
These visits can help find potential problems early and help kids get used to visiting the dentist so they’ll have less fear about going as they get older. If a child seems to be at risk for cavities or other problems, the dentist may start applying topical fluoride even before all teeth come in. Fluoride hardens the tooth enamel, helping to ward off the most common childhood oral disease — dental cavities (also called dental caries).
Cavities happen when bacteria and food left on the teeth after eating are not brushed away. Acid collects on a tooth, softening its enamel until a hole — or cavity — forms.
Here’s how to keep cavities away:
Start good oral habits early. Teach kids to brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and to floss regularly.
Get enough fluoride. Regular use of fluoride toughens the enamel, making it harder for acid to penetrate. Although many towns require tap water to be fluoridated, others don’t. If your water supply is not fluoridated or if your family uses purified water, ask your dentist for fluoride supplements. Most toothpastes contain fluoride but toothpaste alone will not fully protect a child’s teeth. Be careful, however, since too much fluoride can cause tooth discoloration. Check with your dentist before supplementing.
Limit or avoid certain foods. Sugary foods, juices, candy (especially sticky gummy candy, gummy vitamins, or fruit leather or “roll-ups”) can erode enamel and cause cavities. If your kids eat these foods, have them rinse their mouth or brush their teeth after eating to wash away the sugar. The same goes for taking sweetened liquid medicines: always have kids rinse or brush afterward.
As your child’s permanent teeth grow in, the dentist can help prevent decay by applying a thin wash of resin (called a sealant) to the back teeth, where most chewing is done. This protective coating keeps bacteria from settling in the hard-to-reach crevices of the molars. But make sure that kids know that sealants aren’t a replacement for good brushing and regular flossing.
Your smile depends on simple dental care habits, such as brushing and flossing. But are you using the right techniques? Follow these steps to protect your oral health.
Brushing for oral health
Oral health begins with clean teeth. Keeping the area where your teeth meet your gums clean can prevent gum disease, and keeping your tooth surfaces clean can help you prevent cavities.
“One of the most common mistakes people make when brushing their teeth is brushing too hard. Most people brush hard because they think the harder they brush, the whiter their teeth will be. The exact opposite is the case,” says Dr. DeFazio. The outer layer of the tooth is the enamel. Enamel has a whitish color, but it’s translucent. The layer under the enamel, the dentin, has a yellowish color. As we age and our enamel thins, we begin to see more of the dentin through the enamel. As a result, our teeth appear to yellow as we age. According to Dr. DeFazio, “If you’re using a hard brush and/or brushing too hard, you are thinning that enamel at a faster pace. Thinking you’re getting your teeth whiter, you’re actually making them more yellow.” Also, the enamel is thinnest at the gumline, and from years of brushing very aggressively in this area, you will wear ruts into the tooth structure that must be filled. Focus on cleaning the teeth well without doing damage to the teeth and gums. Look at your toothbrush. If it’s splayed out like you’ve used it to clean ceramic tile, you’re brushing too hard.
Also consider these other brushing basics:
Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Take enough time to do a thorough job. Do not rush.
Use the proper equipment. Use a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush that fits your mouth comfortably. Consider using an electric or battery-operated toothbrush, which can reduce plaque and a mild form of gum disease (gingivitis) more than manual brushing. These devices are also helpful if you have arthritis or other problems that make it difficult to brush effectively.
Practice good technique. Hold your toothbrush at a slight angle — aiming the bristles toward the area where your tooth meets your gum. Gently brush with short back-and-forth motions. Remember to brush the outside, inside and chewing surfaces of your teeth, as well as your tongue.
Keep your equipment clean. Always rinse your toothbrush with water after brushing. Store your toothbrush in an upright position and allow it to air-dry until using it again. Don’t routinely cover toothbrushes or store them in closed containers, which can encourage the growth of bacteria.
Know when to replace your toothbrush. Invest in a new toothbrush or a replacement head for your electric or battery-operated toothbrush every three to four months — or sooner if the bristles become frayed.
Flossing for oral health
You can’t reach the tight spaces between your teeth and under the gumline with a toothbrush. That’s why daily flossing is important. When you floss:
Don’t skimp. Break off about 18 inches of dental floss. Wind most of the floss around the middle finger on one hand and the rest around the middle finger on the other hand. Grip the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers.
Be gentle. Guide the floss between your teeth using a rubbing motion. Don’t snap the floss into your gums. When the floss reaches your gumline, curve it against one tooth.
Take it one tooth at a time. Slide the floss into the space between your gum and tooth. Use the floss to gently rub the side of the tooth in an up-and-down motion. Unwind fresh floss as you progress to the rest of your teeth.
Keep it up. If you find it hard to handle floss, use an interdental cleaner — such as a special wooden or plastic pick, stick or brush designed to clean between the teeth.
As long as you do a thorough job, it doesn’t matter if you brush or floss first. However, flossing before brushing might allow more fluoride from your toothpaste to reach between your teeth.