The Fight Against Cavities: How to Care For Big Kids' Teeth

How to Care for Big Kids' Teeth

A Breakdown on Big Kids
By first grade, your child may have the dexterity to brush on his own. How do you know if he can go solo? Dr. Harvell says that if he can tie his own shoes, he's ready. Between 5 and 7, he'll begin to lose his baby teeth -- generally, the earlier they come in, the earlier they're lost. His four permanent molars will come in around age 6. Talk to the dentist about dental sealants, plastic coatings that can decrease the risk of decay on biting surfaces by as much as 89 percent. They're recommended for permanent molars because these teeth have grooves on the biting surfaces that significantly increase the risk of cavities. Sealants are typically covered by dental insurance for the permanent molars; many insurers cover other teeth as well. However, studies show that only 32 percent of kids have them. "I think parents should insist on them," Dr. Shenkin says. "That's how important they are."

You might want to have your child chew xylitol gum after meals too. (Trident is the one major brand that contains it, but other brands may be available at a health-food store or from your dentist.) Xylitol, a sugar substitute that protects the tooth enamel, has been shown to reduce the amount of decay-causing bacteria in the mouth. On the basis of a 2011 review of 70 studies, the ADA recommends that school-age children at high risk for cavities chew xylitol gum. (Gum is safe for kids 6 and older.)

Lastly, it's wise to make soda off-limits because it's high in sugar. Though Jake wasn't a big soda drinker, he drank juice all the time. Now he drinks more water than juice, and his daily gummy candy is also history. Jake hasn't made a fuss about the diet change, and he had no new cavities at his most recent checkup. Says his relieved mom: "I think we're on a healthy road now."

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