It's hard to believe that your little one can get cavities even before kindergarten, but it does happen, and to more kids than you might think. According to USA Today, nearly 30 percent of 2-5 year olds have had at least one cavity, which the AAPD calls "early childhood caries." While the key to preventing caries is instilling good oral hygiene habits as early as possible, many moms will tell you (and my own experience bears out) that this is often easier said than done!
To help us all, I've gathered some tooth care suggestions from Circle of Moms members, including advice on dealing with those cavities — should they develop.
When To See The Dentist
If you've been putting off your child's first visit to the dentist, the truth is there's no reason to wait. Both the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and many Circle of Moms members suggest starting as young as possible so that your kids become comfortable with the dentist. Specifically, the AAPD recommends that children see a dentist as soon as teeth start to come in for preventative reasons: "Once a child’s diet includes anything besides breast-milk, erupted teeth are at risk for decay."
Circle of Moms member Michelle S. has four boys who were all pros at going to the dentist by the time they hit preschool age. She says: "My children have all gone to the dentist just after their first birthdays. I start them out early so that they get used to the dentist and are comfortable going in. That way if they ever need work they aren't afraid."
Other moms (and their dentists) say there are good reasons to wait until your child is a little older and all baby teeth have come in. Rachel C. asked her own dentist for advice on when to schedule her preschooler's first visit, and he recommended waiting until all their teeth are in and they have an established brushing routine.
If your preschooler hasn't seen a dentist yet, several moms say the best way to get started is to find a pediatric dentist. Their offices, staff, and doctors specialize in dealing with children and making it easy and even fun for them. You can find a pediatric dentist by entering your zip code on the AAPD website and doing a quick search.
If your child is getting ready to start kindergarten in the next year, it's very important to get that first checkup as soon as possible. Circle of Moms member Martha S. points out that in the state where she lives "It's required for children entering Kindergarten to have at least one dental exam."
For more tips on the first visit to the dentist see: 3 Tips for a Good First Visit to the Dentist
How to Get Kids to Brush
Getting toddlers and preschoolers to properly brush their teeth twice each day can be exhausting. Many moms find that brushing is more likely to succeed if you make it as a family affair and let your preschooler should see mom, dad, and siblings brush. Tiffany V. even gets pets in on the fun: "We also brush our dog's teeth every night, so we do them both at the same time, like siblings!" And Carolyn G. says it helps to have a toothbrush for your child's favorite doll as well.
Other moms suggest using special kids' toothpaste and toothbrushes to make brushing more fun for kids, especially when they get to pick out their gear themselves. Erin F. planned a special trip to the store for her son to pick out his favorite toothbrush: "Any one he wanted, and his own special toothpaste. I told him it will make his teeth white and [that] this makes him a big boy." She reports that it worked, and "now he wants to brush them all the time."
For more suggestions on brushing see: 3 Clever Ways to Get Your Child to Brush Her Teeth
How And When To Floss
Seriously though, if you are still struggling with brushing and your toddler is still teething, you probably don't need to worry about flossing yet. As Toni M. shares: "My son brushes his teeth twice a day (I help him) but we don't use floss he has gaps between his teeth so it's not needed."
The Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh recommends you introduce flossing to your child's routine around two or three years of age, or as directed by your dentist. When you start to see teeth very close together, or food getting stuck in between, it's definitely time. Many Circle of Moms members suggest using disposable flossing harps. Paulette J. explains: "I've picked up the disposable flossers (the plastic ones that have the floss so they don't have to figure out the finger wrapping) for them to try flossing themselves, and surprising enough, they are better at flossing than brushing at times."
Dealing With Cavities
Having a bottle at bedtime is not the only cause of cavities in kids, but they are still sometimes referred to as "bottle rot." As with adults, poor diet, lack of brushing/flossing, and yes, allowing beverages other than water at bedtime are all significant causes of cavities in young children. But can preschoolers get cavities even when you do everything right? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. As Circle of Moms member Jennifer M. learned from her child's dentist, heredity and naturally weak teeth play a part as well: "My almost five-year-old just had to have caps put on all of his back teeth and even had one removed! I just wanted to sit and cry and the dentist assured me that no matter what I did, he still would have had problems, as his teeth are simply not strong."
There are a wide range of treatments for kids' cavities, including caps, as Jennifer's son had, and fillings. Why let a dentist perform such involved procedures on your preschooler's baby teeth? According to the AAPD, "Decay in primary (baby) teeth can damage the erupting permanent teeth, increases the risk of decay in permanent teeth, causes pain and unnecessary suffering, and can be associated with general health problems in some children."
Once the problem has been identified, your pediatric dentist will recommend the best treatment. As Schyla C. found with her preschooler, it depends not only on the condition of the tooth, but the age and temperament of your child and when the tooth is expected to fall out on its own: "My 5-year-old has two small cavities in her two bottom teeth and because they were not bothering her, her pediatric dentist advised us to let them fall out on their own... but when she was three she had eight cavities filled."
Some dentists will use a light dose of medicine such as Valium to relax your child before filling a cavity. Kesia, a Circle of Moms member who works for a dentist, says her employer uses "magic kool-aid" and N2O (laughing gas) to help relax a child. "It is so important for children to have good experiences at the dental office so they won't be scared like so many people are."
If you are lucky enough to catch the problem early (another great reason to get that first checkup ASAP!) your preschooler's tooth decay might be treatable without having to get a cap or filling. At the first sign of a problem, Angie E.'s daughter started fluoride treatments, which she now gets every four months. She also uses a special toothpaste prescribed by the dentist every other night.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.