How to Care for Toddlers' Teeth
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cavities affect 11 percent of 2-year-olds, 21 percent of 3-year-olds, and 44 percent of 5-year- olds. Taking steps to prevent cavities while your child is a toddler could make a big difference. Start by limiting how often you serve high-carbohydrate snacks such as crackers, pretzels, and cereal, which break down into sugars.
Juice is another culprit. "Every time a child drinks juice, it makes his mouth more susceptible to cavities," says Lezli Levene Harvell, D.M.D., a board- certified pediatric dentist in Newark, New Jersey. "Many parents who don't allow candy are shocked that their child has cavities -- but it turns out he drinks juice all day long."
And often that juice is in a sippy cup. "Some kids have almost 24/7 access to juice because they're walking around with a sippy or sitting in a stroller with one right in front of them," Dr. Harvell notes. While juice is certainly healthier than soda, it still bathes your little one's teeth in sugar. The AAPD recommends no more than 6 ounces of juice daily, and Dr. Harvell recommends giving up the sippy cup by 12 months.
Be sure to brush your toddler's teeth at least twice a day. Instead of doing it at the sink, it's more effective to lean his head on your lap and place the brush at a 45-degree angle to the gum line. Pay attention to the inside surfaces. Try to make it fun; for her own daughters, ages 2 and 4, Dr. Harvell sings "Brush, brush, brush your teeth; brush them every day" to the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Or create a song about something your child loves, such as his teddy bear, and only use that special song at tooth- brushing time. You can also tell him to roar like a dinosaur, which will make him open his mouth wide.
If your toddler has reached the "I want to do it myself " stage, let him watch you brush and mimic you. Finish the job after he takes his turn. By the time he's 2 or 3, all 20 baby teeth should be in place. At this point, you can increase the thin smear of fluoride toothpaste to a pea-size amount.
To avoid preventable orthodontic bills down the road, think about pitching the pacifier. If your child sucks too strongly or frequently, over time the pressure can cause his front teeth to point outward. Dr. Shenkin suggests giving the Binky the boot by age 2. If that's not happening, at least have your child use one that's labeled orthodontically correct. This type may not harm the teeth as much.