What is Dental Hygiene?

What is Dental Hygiene?

  • "Dental hygiene" means the proper care of teeth.

Why Is Early Childhood Dental Hygiene Important?

  • Physical:
    • Cavities (also called dental caries) are a very common problem.
    • More than 40% of children have cavities by the time they reach kindergarten.

What Are the Risk Factors for Cavities?

  • Consuming sugary foods and drinks (juice and pop)
  • Propping a bottle in a child's mouth
  • Going to bed with a bottle
  • Not brushing teeth regularly and not going to the dentist regularly
  • Some families are more at risk for cavities than others

Cavities in Baby Teeth: What Is the Big Deal?

  • Even though baby teeth fall out, cavities in baby teeth are a big deal.
  • Cavities in baby teeth can affect a child's growth!
    • Cavities hurt. If a child's teeth hurt, he or she won't eat well.
  • Cavities in baby teeth can cause problems in adult teeth.
    • Sometimes the adult teeth come in wrong and people have difficulty closing their mouths correctly.
  • Cavities can cause serious infections.
    • Teeth are close to the sinuses and the brain. An untreated infection in a tooth can spread to the sinuses or brain.
    • These infections can become life-threatening.
  • Cavities hurt a lot!
    • When children have tooth pain, they can't concentrate well, and sometimes have to miss school

What Routine Dental Care Is Recommended for All Children to Prevent Cavities?

  • Clean teeth from birth:
    • Caretakers should clean a baby's gums
    • As soon as children get teeth, their caretaker should start cleaning them
    • It is ideal for a caretaker to brush the baby's teeth off after every feeding. If that is not possible, teeth should be cleaned at least twice per day: morning and evening. Make this a daily routine so that children learn how important it is.

  • Once teeth touch, a caretaker should floss in between the teeth once per day.

  • Sugar should be a treat:
    • Kids should only drink one cup of juice per day.
    • No pop

  • No bottles in bed!
    • Kids should not be put to bed with a bottle.
    • If milk is in the bottle, the milk will sit in the child's mouth and the sugar in it will cause cavities.
    • So if a child insists on a bottle in bed, only give water.

  • Don't share drinks or forks or spoons with your child
    • This may sound funny, but an adult's mouth has germs that can cause cavities in little kids

  • Fluoride is great for teeth. It makes them stronger and helps to prevent cavities.
    • Caretakers should use fluoride toothpaste approved by the American Dental Association and rinse every night with an alcohol-free over-the-counter mouth rinse once the child is old enough to swish and spit.
    • Fluoride can be applied to the teeth in the dentist's office, and sometimes in the pediatrician's office.
    • Some public water has fluoride in it.
    • If your water does not have fluoride in it, ask your dentist or pediatrician about other ways to give your child fluoride.

  • Take your child to the dentist at as young an age as possible. Some professionals recommend that a child go to the dentist as soon as he or she has teeth.
    • Early visits help the dentist find problems early.
    • Routine visits to the dentist help a child get used to the dentist. If a child only goes to the dentist when they have a toothache, the child might be scared of the dentist.

Jennifer E. Wolford, DO, MPH, FAAP
Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh,
Division of Child Advocacy

Rachel P. Berger, MD, MPH
Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh,
Division of Child Advocacy

Adelaide L. Eichman, MD
Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh,
Division of Child Advocacy

Content Sources:
American Academy of Pediatrics. 2003. "Oral Health Risk Assessment Timing and Establishment of the Dental Home." Pediatrics 111(5): 1113-16.
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. 2013. "Guideline on Periodicity of Examination, Preventive Dental Services, Anticipatory Guidance/Counseling, and Oral Treatment for Infants, Children, and Adolescents." Pediatric Dentistry 35(5): E148-56.

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