Family Habits Are Key to Preventing Cavities

Children's Dental Care Begins at Birth

Mar 01, 2011, 17:11 ET from Western Dental Services, Inc.

ORANGE, Calif., March 1, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- For many parents, thoughts of their children's dental health often comes long after the first baby teeth appear. Yet a lifetime of good oral health habits begins even with toothless infants, says Dr. Louis Amendola, D.D.S., Chief Dental Director at Western Dental Services, Inc.


Though dental professionals have long pushed the benefits of brushing and fluoride, increasingly, they're focusing on family habits, says Dr. Amendola, who oversees the California-based company's 250 dental offices. "Parents and caretakers are the first line of defense against children's cavities and poor oral health," he says.

The Centers for Disease Control calls tooth decay the most common chronic children's disease, but also the most preventable. "Cavities don't have to be a part of childhood," says Dr. Amendola.

"Children are at high risk for tooth decay," says Western Dental President and Chief Executive Officer Samuel H. Gruenbaum, "so we have made cavity prevention a top priority."

The professionals at Western Dental offer the following advice to keep those precious smiles healthy and happy:

Great Smiles Begin with Good Gums

To get parents and their children accustomed to good oral hygiene, the Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests that, starting at birth, parents should clean infants' gums twice a day with a small, soft-bristled brush or a soft cloth and water.  Older children should learn to brush twice a day, preferably after meals, says Dr. Amendola, "But always before bedtime."

Back off the Bacteria

"Babies aren't born with the bacteria that causes tooth decay," says Dr. Amendola. They acquire the Streptococcus mutans bacteria from anyone who has had cavities, which includes about 85% of all adults. As the bacteria eat sugars, they can produce enamel-weakening acid that decays teeth.

"Many parents don't know that every time they taste a spoonful of cereal or share a drink with their kids, they're transferring decay-causing bacteria from their mouths to their children's," says Dr. Amendola. "Two pieces of good advice: Make sure caregivers take good care of their teeth to reduce the harmful bacteria that they could transfer, and second," he says, "don't swap spit."

Ban the Bedtime Bottle

"We see lots of well-intentioned parents and caregivers put their babies to sleep with a bottle or sippy cup full of formula or juice, but that's a bad practice to start and a difficult one to stop," says Dr. Amendola. If babies must have a bottle or cup for comfort, fill it with water. Juice, breast milk or formula contain natural sugars that provide an ideal environment for bacteria to grow. "Baby-bottle syndrome," the serious tooth decay that results from teeth bathed in juice or milk overnight, is particularly aggressive and can destroy many teeth very quickly.    

Baby Those Baby Teeth

As soon as teeth appear, usually between 6 and 12 months of age, start brushing them twice a day. That first tooth is also the signal to visit the dentist, who can advise you on the appropriate oral hygiene for your child. For most children under 2 years old, use a slight smear of fluoride toothpaste on a soft brush. Use a pea-sized droplet of fluoride toothpaste for children up to 8 years old, and assist or supervise brushing with younger children. "Most children under the age of 6 don't have good control of their swallowing reflex, so be sure that they don't eat toothpaste or swallow it. With infants, wipe away extra toothpaste, and teach older children how to rinse away toothpaste after brushing," says Dr. Amendola.  

Too much ingested fluoride can cause dental fluorosis, which can leave white, lacy markings on the tooth surface. The condition occurs when teeth are forming, up to about age 8.

Corral the Grazing

Snacking is fuel for tooth decay, "So try to limit between-meal snacks, sugary treats and any frequent exposure to food or sugar," says Dr. Amendola. "If you serve your toddlers fruit juice, offer it in a cup only at meals or snack times. Better yet, teach your children to drink only water between meals," says Dr. Amendola. "You want to break the sugar habit when they're young."

For more information or to find a nearby dentist, visit

Western Dental Services, Inc., is the largest staff-model dental HMO and clinical provider of dental services in California. With more than 4,400 employees and over 250 company-managed dental offices throughout California, Arizona and Nevada, Western Dental is the leader in family and specialty dental care operations at convenient neighborhood locations. The company's strict quality oversight, affordably priced treatments, group and individual dental benefit plans, as well as evening and weekend office hours, help keep the smiles of nearly three-quarters of a million patients healthy and bright every year.

SOURCE Western Dental Services, Inc.