Q: At what age can my child brush and floss by him/herself?

A: Studies indicate that most children can start to brush independently by age 7 or 8.  Flossing requires a lot more dexterity and children need help with flossing until age 11 or 12.

School-Age Dental Care (ages 6-12)

Fluoride: Fluoride is nature’s cavity fighter, and along with proper home care, is one of the most effective ways of preventing tooth decay and improving your child’s overall dental health.  According to the Massachusetts Dental Society, fluoride strengthens tooth enamel, making it less susceptible to decay.  That’s why it’s important for parents to ensure that children are receiving the recommended amount or fluoride.  Fluoride may be obtained several ways, including drinking fluoridated community water.  The amount of fluoride in tap water is relatively small, yet it is enough to strengthen the developing teeth of children.  Fluoride may also be obtained through topical applications of toothpaste and mouth rinse or your dentist can prescribe it.  As with all good things, moderation is the key, so it is important for parent to monitor their child’s fluoride intake.  Young children should be supervised when using a fluoride toothpaste.  Fluoride supplements should only be prescribed for children living non-fluoridated communities.

Sealants: When teeth are forming in the child’s mouth, the chewing surfaces are susceptible to decay.  This susceptibility is due, in part, to the inability of the toothbrush to reach down into the tiny pits and grooves of the tooth.  Food and bacteria build up in the depressions, placing the teeth in danger of decay.  Approximately 80-90 % of cavities in children occur in these pits and grooves. 

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Sealants are plastic coatings that are “painted” onto the teeth to protect against cavities, especially those that develop on the chewing surfaces of premolars and permeant molars.  A recent national study found that children with sealants had significantly less dental decay than children without sealants.  According to the Massachusetts Dental Society, sealants last from 3-7 years.  Sealants help “seal out” food and plaque and help keep your child cavity-free for a lifetime.  

Brushing and Flossing: Begin oral health care as soon as your baby is born by cleaning his/her gums with a washcloth after feeding.  The Massachusetts Dental Society recommends that parents begin brushing as soon as the first tooth appears.  Use a soft bristled toothbrush, a smear of fluoridated toothpaste, and water.  Children should be taught to spit out toothpaste and rinse with water after brushing.  Flossing should begin as soon as any two teeth touch.  Parents should assist their children until they are old enough to brush and floss on their own (usually by age 7-8 for brushing and 11-12 for flossing).  

Diet: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is not only good for your body but also for your teeth.  Diets high in carbohydrates can be cavity causing as carbohydrates break down into sugars.  It is not just what is being ingested but also the frequency of ingestion.  Frequent consumption of carbohydrates has been found to be a culprit in causing decay.  The stickiness of food plays a role in how long a food adheres to the teeth.  Staying away from sticky sweets will help keep teeth healthy.  In addition to the sweets, acid also plays a role in the deteriorating effects of the teeth.  Acid attack weakened enamel.  For example, sour patch kids should not be included in the diet as it is acidic, sweet, and sticky. 

 

Beverages: According to the Journal of Pediatrics, the average American child consumes about 2 12oz. cans of soft drinks per day.  This amounts to 20 teaspoons of sugar each day, which is almost 2 times the recommended limit for children.  This high amount of sugar intake plays a major role in dental decay.  Bacteria colonize between and around teeth, and when exposed to the sugar, produce an acid that causes damage to the enamel that eventually leads to decay.  This acid can begin to harm tooth enamel in only 20 minutes.  All types of soda, sports drinks, lemonades, and juices have high acid content.  In addition to the acid and sugar, frequency of ingestion of these beverages play a high role in causing decay.

Trauma and Mouthguards

Trauma:

More than 5 million teeth are knocked out each year through sports injury, accident, or play.  Saving a tooth depends entirely on what is done within the first 30-60 minutes after the incident.  If a tooth is knocked out:

  1. Do not handle the tooth by the root.

  2. Do not brush or scrub the tooth.  If debris is present, gently rinse with water. 

  3. If possible, replant the tooth by biting down gently on a towel or handkerchief.  If unable to replant, place the tooth in cold milk, water, or wrap the tooth in saline soaked gauze.

  4. Contact your dentist immediately.  Replantation within 30 minutes has the best rate of success.

 

If a tooth gets fractured, it is important to determine whether the pulp/nerve of the tooth has been exposed.  To do so, look at the fractured surface of the tooth, if a red dot is present, then the nerve has been exposed.  In this instance, it is important to contact your dentist immediately.

 

Mouthguards: Approximately 15 million children participate in organized sports in the United States.  According to the Massachusetts Dental Society, athletes are 60 times more likely to suffer damage to the mouth when not wearing a protective mouth guard.  The cost to repair a broken or missing tooth can cost thousands of dollars.  Mouth guards help prevent injury to the teeth, lips, cheeks and even the tongue.  There are 3 types of mouth guards: stock, boil and bite, and custom-made mouth guard.  Consult with your dentist who will help you determine which mouth guard would best fit your needs.