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Bright Smiles: An Early Childhood Oral Health Initiative

Bright Smiles is a collaborative effort initiated by Amanda Cristinziano, Kristina Dee, Sarah Habib and Joanna Lamberts DMD 2012, that hopes to benefit children by educating caregivers on relevant oral health issues. 


Cavities are caused by bacteria that live within plaque on your child’s teeth. Bacteria feed off sugar and create an acid that can damage teeth and cause cavities.



Q: What are baby bottle cavities?

A: These are cavities that occur when a baby’s bottle is filled with sugar-containing beverages, and are not due to the bottle itself. Soft drinks and fruit juice are examples of beverages with a high sugar content. The longer your child’s teeth are exposed to the sugars in these beverages, the higher the risk of developing cavities.


Q: What about milk?

A: Milk is a great source of calcium and nutrients for your growing child. However, milk still contains a small amount of sugar that can cause cavities if it surrounds the teeth for a long enough time, as is the case at night. Milk can also act as vehicle for sugar when supplemented with additives such as chocolate or honey.

Tip: At night, only fill the bottle with water after brushing your child’s teeth.


Q: What are some healthy snacks I can give my child?

A: When snacking, it is best to make healthy choices. These include cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, natural yogurt and sugar-free crackers. Sticky, sugary foods like dried fruit and caramel can stay on your child’s teeth all day long and increase the risk of cavities.

Tip: Many snacks can be misleading so check nutrition labels for sugar content.


Q: Where do the bacteria come from?

A: The bacteria that cause cavities are most often passed on through saliva from a caregiver or family member to a child. This happens when sharing food and drinks.

Use a separate utensil to check the temperature of your child’s food. Remember that each child should have his/her own toothbrush. Pacifiers are also a common means of transmitting bacteria.

Tip: If a pacifier drops on the floor, rinse it under water or use a spare one, rather than putting it in your mouth to clean it.

Tip: Sugar-free chewing gum containing xylitol (make sure to read the packet, some gums have it, some do not) decreases the amount of cavity-causing bacteria in the adult’s mouth, which reduces the risk of transmitting bacteria. The oral hygiene of the caregivers is just as important, so remember that caregivers should keep their teeth as clean as possible.


Oral Hygiene

Q: When should I start brushing my child’s teeth?

A: You should expect your baby’s first tooth to come in at around 6 months. Teeth should be brushed as soon as they appear. Use fluoridated toothpaste the size of a rice grain to brush twice a day. This amount is small enough that it is still safe if your baby swallows some. Remember to change your child’s toothbrush every approximately 3 months or when he/she gets sick.

Tip: Not sure how to brush your child’s teeth? Check out this helpful video

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Q: When should my child first see a dentist?

A: The child should be seen by a pediatric dentist or a dentist who sees young children 6 months after the first tooth erupts, or by age 1.


Q: Why are baby teeth important, if they will just fall out?
A: The health of the adult teeth depends on the condition of the baby teeth. Bacteria can spread from baby teeth to adult teeth and lead to severe pain and dental infections. The early loss of baby teeth from cavities can cause teeth to move, result in crowding and prevent the adult teeth from coming in. This may lead to the need for extra orthodontic treatment and affect your child’s self-esteem.

Tip: Starting to brush your child’s teeth early will be beneficial in the long run by establishing good habits and a healthy oral environment.


Q: Is it okay that my child sucks his/her thumb?

A: Thumb sucking and pacifier use are normal in a child’s development and children usually quit the habit by the age of 3. Adding sugary substances to pacifiers can also cause cavities.

Tip: If your child cannot break the habit by the age of 3, you should consult your dentist, pediatrician or orthodontist for help.



 Q: What if my child accidentally breaks a tooth?

A: If your child breaks a tooth, visit a dentist as soon as possible. Keep the broken part of the tooth and take it with you. It is best to transport the tooth in saliva or milk.



 Q: What can I expect when my child is teething?

A: Teething is a normal condition that your child experiences when his/her teeth are erupting into the mouth. This can be an uncomfortable and sometimes stressful process. It is normal to expect a reduced appetite and irritability in your baby. Although fever and diarrhea are possible, it would be wise to confirm that there are no other sources of these symptoms (such as an ear infection). If your child is experiencing significant discomfort, do not hesitate to give Children’s Tylenol or Advil in the doses prescribed on the package.

Tip: Try a frozen bagel or a teething toy instead of a biscuit or cookie.