Even though your child will eventually lose all 20 of those baby teeth she's sprouting, it's important to take care of them. Not only do baby teeth hold the space that permanent teeth will move into, but your child will need to use those baby teeth for at least six years. Here are some frequently asked questions about childhood dental care:
What causes cavities and how can I prevent them?
Cavities, also called dental caries, occur when the enamel (the outer layer of the tooth) breaks down from too much acidity. Excess bacteria produce the acid by feeding on carbohydrates which enter the mouth in the form of sugars and starches. The acid erodes a hole in the tooth, creating the cavity, which is typically corrected with a white or metal amalgam restoration -- called a filling.
The end result (hopefully) of helping your child take good care of her teeth is that she'll avoid cavities. By enforcing good dental care early in your child's life and encouraging her to continue these habits, you can certainly limit cavities and often prevent them.
Are there certain foods that might cause cavities? Are there any foods that can help prevent them?
What your child eats can affect the health of his teeth. Sugary foods are often associated with cavities, but that can be misleading. Chocolate milk, for example, is okay. It provides the protein, calcium, and vitamins that kids need for strong teeth. And since kids like it, they're apt to drink more of it than white milk. On the other hand, crackers, popcorn, and breads can actually take longer to dissolve and stay in the mouth longer than some candies, providing food for cavity-causing bacteria.
By contrast, some foods actually help prevent cavities. For example, certain types of cheese can help neutralize the production of cavity-causing acids. Cheese and other dairy products also contain calcium, which is needed to make teeth strong. Raw, crunchy fruits and vegetables scrape away some of the bacteria and plaque in the mouth, thus reducing the risk of cavities. Keep these tips in mind:
- How often your child eats is more important than what he eats. Offer your child snacks no more than three or four times a day.
- Cooked starches, such as breads, crackers, pastas, pretzels, and potato chips, contribute to cavities just as much as sugary foods, because they tend to dissolve slowly and linger in the mouth.
- A food with sugar or starch is less likely to cause cavities if it's eaten with other foods rather than alone. Foods such as crunchy fruits and vegetables, for instance, can help "move" sugary or starchy foods out of the mouth.
- Children need protein, vitamins, and minerals (especially calcium and phosphorous) to build strong teeth and to resist tooth decay and gum disease.