Tooth decay -- although largely preventable with good care -- is the one of the most common chronic diseases of children ages 6 to 11 and teens ages 12 to 19. Tooth decay is five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever in children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Getting preventive care early saves money in the long run, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report found that costs for dental care were nearly 40% lower over a five-year period for children who got dental care by age one compared to those who didn't go to the dentist until later.
Pacifiers used in the first year of life may actually help prevent sudden infant death syndrome, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. They suggest using a pacifier when placing the infant to sleep but not to reinsert it when the infant is asleep. Long-term use can be hazardous to dental health. Sucking too strongly on a pacifier, for instance, can affect how the top and bottom teeth line up (the "bite") or can affect the shape of the mouth.
Antibiotics and some asthma medications can cause an overgrowth of candida (yeast), which can lead to a fungal infection called oral thrush. Suspect thrush if you see creamy, curd-like patches on the tongue or inside the mouth.. If your child is on chronic medications, ask your child's dentist how often you should brush, you may be advised to help your child brush as often as four times a day.
Get your child involved in a way that's age-appropriate. For instance, you might let a child who is age 5 or older pick his own toothpaste at the store, from options you approve. You could buy two or three different kinds of dental equipment, like toothpastes and let the child choose which one to use each time.
Also ask your dentist's advice on when to start using mouthwash. "I advise parents to wait until the child can definitely spit the mouthwash out," says Mary Hayes, DDS, a pediatric dentist in Chicago and consumer advisor for the American Dental Association. "Mouthwash is a rinse and not a beverage."
Once there are additional teeth, Largent tells parents to buy infant toothbrushes that are very soft. Brushing should be done twice daily using a fluoridated toothpaste.
For years, pediatricians and dentists have been cautioning parents not to put an infant or older child down for a nap with a bottle of juice, formula, or milk. The sugary liquids in the bottle cling to baby's teeth, providing food for bacteria that live in the mouth. The bacteria produce acids that can trigger tooth decay. Left unchecked, dental disease can adversely affect a child's growth and learning, and can even affect speech.
During dental visits, ask your dentist if your child's teeth need fluoride protection or a dental sealant.