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Sealants are a great way to protect against tooth decay and cavities on your back teeth (molars). These are the teeth that are most vulnerable to cavities and decay because they are used in the chewing process, and are the most difficult to reach and clean. Molars first come in at around 5-7 years of age, with a second set coming in between the ages of 11-14. It is best to have a sealant placed when the molars first come in to ensure they are protected early.
To place a sealant an adhesive is first applied to the teeth. The sealant is then placed over the adhesive as a liquid, as if it is painted right onto the tooth. The liquid then hardens and creates a barrier between your tooth and any plaque, food particles, and bacteria. Sealants last for about 10 years and can be reapplied if necessary.
How can I help at home?
Oral habits – Though pacifier use and thumb sucking generally cease over time, both can cause the teeth to misalign. If the child must use a pacifier, choose an “orthodontically” correct model. This will minimize the risk of developmental problems like narrow roof arches and crowding. The pediatric dentist can suggest a strategy (or provide a dental appliance) for thumb sucking cessation.
General oral hygiene – Sometimes, parents clean pacifiers and teething toys by sucking on them. Parents may also share eating utensils with the child. By performing these acts, parents transfer harmful oral bacteria to their child, increasing the risk of early cavities and tooth decay. Instead, rinse toys and pacifiers with warm water, and avoid spoon-sharing whenever possible.
Sippy cup use – Sippy cups are an excellent transitional aid when transferring from a baby bottle to an adult drinking glass. However, sippy cups filled with milk, breast milk, soda, juice, and sweetened water cause small amounts of sugary fluid to continually swill around young teeth – meaning acid continually attacks tooth enamel. Sippy cup use should be terminated between the ages of twelve and fourteen months or as soon as the child has the motor skills to hold a drinking glass.
Brushing – Children’s teeth should be brushed a minimum of two times per day using a soft bristled brush and a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Parents should help with the brushing process until the child reaches the age of seven and is capable of reaching all areas of the mouth. Parents should always opt for ADA approved toothpaste (non-fluoridated before the age of two, and fluoridated thereafter). For babies, parents should rub the gum area with a clean cloth after each feeding.
Flossing – Cavities and tooth decay form more easily between teeth. Therefore, the child is at risk for between-teeth cavities wherever two teeth grow adjacent to each other. The pediatric dentist can help demonstrate correct head positioning during the flossing process and suggest tips for making flossing more fun!
Fluoride – Fluoride helps prevent mineral loss and simultaneously promotes the remineralization of tooth enamel. Too much fluoride can result in fluorosis, a condition where white specks appear on the permanent teeth, and too little can result in tooth decay. It is important to get the fluoride balance correct. The pediatric dentist can evaluate how much the child is currently receiving and prescribe supplements if necessary.