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    National Children’s Dental Health Month: Q&A with Dr. Matt Mortenson

    February is National Children’s Dental Health Month! In honor of the occasion, we sat down with Dr. Matt Mortenson from our Dixie Highway practice to answer some questions around oral health in children.

    At what age should children begin seeing a dentist?

    The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that a child go to the dentist by age 1 or within six months after the first tooth erupts. Primary teeth typically begin growing in around 6 months of age.

    Does it really matter how children treat their baby teeth since they will eventually lose them anyway?

    Yes. The mistake parents or caretakers can make is not believing that the loss of a primary tooth is especially important since a permanent tooth is supposed to come in and replace it anyway. It is important to keep baby teeth because they maintain the spacing for permanent teeth. Keeping baby teeth in place will also increase the likelihood that permanent teeth come in straight.

    What is the best way to keep my child’s mouth clean before teeth come in?

    Before your baby has teeth, you can gently brush his gums. Use water on a baby toothbrush, or clean them with a soft washcloth. When your baby’s teeth appear, brush twice a day with an infant toothbrush and fluoridated toothpaste. Start flossing when two of his teeth touch each other.

    Are thumb-sucking and pacifier habits harmful to teeth?

    The long-term use of a pacifier influences the shape of the mouth and the alignment of the teeth, because as babies and toddlers mature physically, their jaws grow around anything held inside on a repeated basis. In fact, overusing pacifiers affects mouth and teeth development in the same way as long-term thumb-sucking, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). As the child’s upper front teeth tip forward, teeth may become crooked and he or she can experience bite problems. There may also be changes in tooth position and jaw alignment. The American Dental Association (ADA) suggests other symptoms of prolonged pacifier use to include the front teeth not meeting when the mouth is closed, and changes on the roof of the mouth.

    What is the biggest cause of cavities in children?

    Infants: When babies are given bedtime bottles filled with milk, formula, juice or other sugar-containing liquids, these beverages remain on their teeth for hours while they sleep, feeding decay-causing bacteria. This damage is often called baby bottle tooth decay. Similar damage can occur when toddlers wander around drinking from a sippy cup filled with these beverages.

    Toddlers: When you steadily snack or sip sugary drinks, you give mouth bacteria more fuel to produce acids that attack your teeth and wear them down. Sticky “gummy” candies that stick between the teeth are especially harmful.

    Youth: Sipping soda or other sugary/acidic drinks throughout the day helps create a continual acid bath over your teeth.

    How can I help my child avoid cavities?

    • 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. 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 some 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 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.
    • With infants and toddlers, do not put them to bed with milk or juice. Milk and juice are both full of sugar and can cause early childhood decay on baby teeth when left on the teeth throughout the night. 

    How do I know which kind of toothpaste to give my child? Is it safe to use one that has fluoride?

    I recommend buying a fluoride toothpaste that has been approved by the ADA (American Dental Association). Use a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste about the size of a grain of rice to minimize the amount your child swallows. This will help spread the fluoride onto teeth without your child swallowing too much, since he or she can’t really spit yet. Once your child becomes better at spitting (about age 3), use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and have your child spit after brushing. 

    When should children begin brushing their own teeth?

    Every child is different but in general, parents should brush their child’s teeth until they are about 8 to 10 years old. Remember that it is very important that parents continue to supervise their children’s brushing until the age of 10 to 12. This is to make sure that they’re doing it thoroughly.  

    What should I do if my child has a toothache?

    Please make a dental appointment with either a general dentist or a pediatric dentist as soon as possible.

    If you could only provide one piece of advice for parents when it comes to their children’s teeth, what would it be?

    For parents of babies, I definitely want them to know that putting a child to bed with milk through the night is very detrimental to the child and their teeth. Water is the only thing that is recommended in a sippy cup or bottle if they will be drinking throughout the night. Milk is full of sugar (as is juice). For parents with older children, I think it’s important to remember that children aren’t naturally great at brushing, so we really want them to be supervised. We often tell people to watch their child brush and then brush for them after if needed. As parents, we have to guide them to healthy habits!


    Learn more about Dr. Matt Mortenson by clicking here.