Child having his teeth cleanedTooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease. It’s four times more common than early childhood obesity, five times more common than asthma, and 20 times more common than diabetes. In fact, 40 percent of preschoolers (ages 2 to 5) have cavities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tooth decay can begin as early as the teeth start to erupt (at approximately six months old) and can progress rapidly, destroying children’s teeth and causing great physical pain. Discomfort while eating caused by tooth decay often leads to insufficient physical development, and tooth decay can negatively impact speech development, sleep, learning, and quality of life— challenges that can last into adulthood.

Since every child is at risk, how do you prevent and manage a disease like this? Brush, floss, visit the dentist, and follow this advice adapted from Ask Your Dentist About Regular Dental Visits and the Tooth Decay Fact Sheet by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry:

How often should a child see the dentist?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a dental check-up at least twice a year for most children. Some children need more frequent dental visits because of increased risk of tooth decay, unusual growth patterns, or poor oral hygiene. Ask your pediatric dentist about the best appointment schedule for your child.

Why visit the dentist twice a year when my child has never had a cavity?

Regular dental visits help your child stay cavity-free. Teeth cleanings remove debris that build up on the teeth, irritate the gums, and cause decay. Fluoride treatments renew the fluoride content in the enamel, strengthening teeth and preventing cavities. Hygiene instructions improve your child’s brushing and flossing, leading to cleaner teeth and healthier gums.

Tooth decay is not the only reason for a dental visit. A pediatric dentist provides an ongoing assessment of changes in your child’s oral health. For example, your child may need additional fluoride, dietary changes, or sealants for ideal dental health. The pediatric dentist may identify orthodontic problems and suggest treatment to guide the teeth as they emerge in the mouth.

What happens during a dental check-up?

The pediatric dentist will review your child’s medical and dental history. He or she will gently examine your child’s teeth, oral tissues, and jaws. The teeth will be cleaned and polished, followed by the application of a fluoride solution.

Your pediatric dentist will not just talk to you about dental health, he or she will talk to your child as well, with easily understandable words, pictures, and ideas. Your child will be motivated to take responsibility for a healthy smile.

Will X-rays be taken at every appointment?

No. Pediatric dentists, acting in accordance with the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, recommend X-rays only when necessary to protect your child’s dental health. For example, X-rays may be needed to diagnose tooth decay or abnormalities. Or, they may be required for orthodontic treatment. Your pediatric dentist will discuss the need for X-rays with you before any are taken.

How often should my child brush at home?

Parents should brush an infant’s mouth and gums with a soft cloth or infant toothbrush once daily. For children ages 1 to 5, parents should perform or assist in brushing children’s teeth twice daily with an age-appropriate toothbrush and fluoridated toothpaste. Use a “smear” of toothpaste for children under the age of 2 and a “pea-size” amount for children 2 to 5. Children 7 to 18 should brush teeth twice daily with a fluoridated toothpaste, and floss once daily.

How can I help my child enjoy good dental health?

  1. Beware of frequent snacking.
  2. Brush effectively twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
  3. Floss once a day.
  4. Have sealants applied when appropriate.
  5. Seek regular dental check-ups.
  6. Assure proper fluoride through drinking water, fluoride products, or fluoride supplements.
  7. Help your child reduce the intake of foods high in sugar and serve healthy meals that include the recommended daily allowances of fruits and vegetables. Protein, vitamins, and minerals such as calcium and phosphorous build strong teeth and help children’s mouths to fight tooth decay and gum disease.