How to Keep Your Child's Teeth Healthy

Did you know that cavities, also known as caries or tooth decay, are among the most common chronic childhood diseases of childhood? Or, that children with poor oral health often miss more days of school and demonstrate poorer academic performance than children with good dental health?

You can protect your children’s health – and their productivity in school -- by protecting their teeth from cavities. This means bringing them in for regular dental health check-ups, which often includes the application of dental sealants, says Vanessa Coupet, DMD Assistant Professor of Clinical Surgery and Pediatric Dentistry. “Children should receive sealants when their first permanent molars are fully erupted. This can be, on average, between the ages of 5 to 7 years old,” Dr. Coupet says.

The Benefits of Dental Sealants

A dental sealant is a thin plastic coating that a dentist or hygienist paints onto the hard-to-clean surfaces of your child’s back teeth, also known as molars. “Dental sealants are applied as a physical barrier to prevent bacteria and food from getting into the grooves of the teeth, which can lead to cavities,” Dr. Coupet explains.

Most tooth decay in permanent teeth occurs on the surfaces of the molars where chewing generally takes place, and which dental sealants can prevent. “Sealants are usually applied to the permanent molars because that is where they are most beneficial. However, they can be applied to -- and help prevent cavities in -- any teeth that have deeps grooves,” she says.

Research shows that sealants protect against 80% of cavities for two years and 50% of cavities for up to four years. They can continue to protect the teeth for up to nine years through adolescence. Children aged 6 to 11 years who do not have sealants have almost three times more first molar cavities than children with sealants.

Because normal chewing eventually wears down dental sealants, the dentist will determine at every six-month check-up if your child needs to have them re-applied.

Improving Kids Oral Health

Other ways to protect your children’s dental health include:

  • Caring for your teeth and mouth during pregnancy.
  • Wiping your baby’s gums after each meal.
  • Not putting your baby to bed with a bottle.
  • Brushing your child’s teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste. Ask your dentist or doctor when to start using fluoride toothpaste for children younger than two years.
  • Limiting your children’s intake of sugary drinks and foods. Bacteria in the mouth turn sugary foods into acid, which destroys minerals from the tooth’s surface, weakening the tooth and increasing the risk for cavities.
  • Encouraging your children to eat more fruits and vegetables for snacks.
  • Serving water at mealtime rather than juice or soda. Fluoridated tap water rebuilds the surface of the teeth and protects them from decay.
  • Including calcium-rich foods (yogurt, broccoli, and milk) in your child’s diet to help build strong teeth.
  • Scheduling your child’s first dental visit by their first birthday or after their first tooth appears.

Children who wear braces can still benefit from – and should get – dental sealants, Dr. Coupet notes. “Braces are not usually placed on the biting surfaces of the teeth, which is where most deep grooves are and where sealants are beneficial,” she says.