Rethink kids’ baby teeth: protect them now before the Tooth Fairy comes

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. About two years ago, I wrote a guide with some good advice to parents of young children about how to keep their baby teeth, and eventual adult teeth, healthy and strong.

St. David's Foundation has mobile dental vans to treat children.

St. David’s Foundation has mobile dental vans to treat children.

Drs. Patrice Coons, clinical director of the St. David’s Foundation’s dental program, and Lisa Jacob, chief of pediatric dentistry at Dell Children’s Medical Center, gave us this advice, as well as some interesting details about certain diseases and medications that can affect dental health in children:

Clean their mouths out. Before babies have teeth, take a wet washcloth and rub the gums.

Avoid baby bottle tooth decay. Try to avoid having your baby fall asleep drinking a bottle or breast-feeding. (I know, it’s really hard, especially in those sleep-deprived first months.) Instead, rinse their mouths with water before they go to sleep.

Keep track of fevers and antibiotics and other medications. You can help your pediatric dentist find problems early by alerting her of your child’s medical history. Because a lot of antibiotics and medications in liquid form are really sugary to taste good, rinse your child’s mouth with water afterward or brush their teeth.

See a dentist by age 1. The dentist will help you find the right oral care regimen and detect potential problems.

Embrace the fluoride. Even young children can use toothpaste with fluoride in it. You are just going to use a small, pea-size amount until they can spit it out. Get regular fluoride treatments at the dentist, which can be either the fluoride tray or the more effective painted-on fluoride varnish. If your insurance will let you, put sealants on their teeth, especially those 6-year molars.

Don’t avoid city water or try to filter it. Children whose parents give them bottled water are not getting the fluoride in tap water. Also, children who drink filtered water, especially with a reverse osmosis filtering system, might not be getting the fluoride.

Limit the sugar and junk food. Your teeth are exposed to everything you eat and drink. Avoid sugary, sticky foods. (Fruit snacks send these dentists over the edge. Not a fruit, really a candy, they say.) Children should only have about 4 ounces to 6 ounces of juice a day. If you are going to have juice, it should be 100 percent juice and diluted with water. Chocolate milk is not a good choice because of the sugar. Regular milk is fine but should be chased with a glass of water or teeth brushing. Crystal Light is also OK, but diet sodas still have a lot of acid despite the lack of sugar. The best drink: tap water.

Create a teeth-brushing routine. Know that this isn’t something young children should be doing without adult supervision. A 3-year-old cannot really do a good job; even some older kids struggle. Brush the teeth at least twice a day, and yes, it’s true, you have to floss, too. Brush the teeth for at least two minutes, which is the equivalent of a favorite pop song. You can find all kinds of YouTube videos as well as toothpaste company websites to show them how to brush, but you also can have kids brush your teeth so they can see all the teeth in the back of the mouth that need attention.

Look for abnormalities. If you see signs of tooth decay such as discoloration or your child complains of pain that’s not regular teething, consult a dentist to so the problem doesn’t get worse.

In Austin, we’re lucky that many kids have access to good dental care through the St. David’s Foundation. In 2014, the foundation provided dental care to 5,500 children at their schools.

Now another foundation is helping kids. Capital Area Dental Foundation, which has given dental care 800 people throughout central Texas by working in partnership with Statesman Season for Caring, Goodwill Industries, Health Alliance for Austin Musicians and St. Vincent de Paul.

Now the foundation is going to help Austin-based HeartGift, which brings children from around the world to Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas to give them life-saving heart surgery. Each year, HeartGift helps about a patient a month from countries including Algeria, Belize, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Jamaica, Kenya, Kosovo, Liberia, Macedonia, Malawi, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Palestine, Panama, Philippines, Republic of Kiribati, Somalia, Syria and Uganda.

Capital Area Dental Foundation will give HeartGift’s recipients the dental surgery they need before their heart operations.

“What a great opportunity for the Capital Area Dental Foundation to partner with HeartGift,” says Alan B. Moore, DDS, CADF Chairman.  “Our volunteer dentists look forward to providing essential oral health care and removing any infections that might exist to help these medically fragile children go on to have a successful heart surgeries.”