Preventive dentistry encompasses any means available to maintain a healthy mouth and thereby reducing the need for dental treatment. The prevention of tooth decay and gum disease will go a long way to ensure a lifetime of good, healthy teeth.

Children with healthy mouths can chew and function more easily, learn to speak more quickly and clearly and healthy mouths are more attractive thereby giving a child more self confidence.    There are numerous ways to help prevent tooth decay and gum disease. We like to think of these methods as bricks in the wall against oral problems.  The more bricks used, the bigger and stronger the wall.  No one factor can prevent tooth decay.  You need a number of factors working together.

The first and most important step in prevention is the removal of the main cause and that is plaque bacteria.  Establishing good oral hygiene at an early age is essential if one is to enjoy a lifetime of dental health.

The teeth should be brushed every day, twice a day, once after breakfast and once before bedtime.      Children must be encouraged to brush their own teeth but it is important for you to supervise, especially for children under the age of eight. Proper, effective brushing takes at least 2 minutes and it is essential that all tooth surfaces are cleaned.

Brush the chewing surfaces of the teeth with a back and forth stroke.  For the outer and inner surfaces of the teeth the brush is held at a 45° angle toward the gum-line.  Small, light circular movements are made until all the teeth are cleaned.

Make sure the tongue is brushed as well, as it also harbours plaque.  Electric toothbrushes are very effective and we highly recommend their use.  When brushing, use a small pea-sized drop of fluoride-containing toothpaste.

Unfortunately, brushing alone can not remove all the plaque that builds up on our teeth.  It is impossible for the bristles of a toothbrush to reach into areas between the teeth when they are in contact with each other. Dental floss is passed in between the teeth to remove this hard to reach plaque.  The floss acts as an extension of the toothbrush.

Stand behind your child with their head resting in your arms. Take a piece of floss and wrap it around your middle fingers leaving about 5cm in between.  With the thumb and index fingers, hold the floss taut and gently slide it between the teeth. Curve the floss around each tooth in a “C” shape and gently move it up and down the sides of each tooth.  Make sure you get under the gum-line.  Move to the next tooth.

Sugar in the diet plays a vital role in the process of tooth decay as it is these sugars that are broken down by plaque bacteria to produce acids that eat into tooth structure.

Diet is therefore a key factor and needs to be controlled.  Good eating habits from an early age are important, not only for healthy teeth but also for lifelong health and well being.  Try to give your children a balanced diet, one that includes a variety of foods from the major food groups.

Do not give bacteria the food they need:  Sugar. Limit the frequency of sugary foods and preferably only at mealtimes. Try to avoid giving your children snacks of sugary, starchy food.  Avoid fizzy cold drinks, undiluted fruit juices and the popular sports drinks. These are all very acidic and are harmful to the teeth.

Sealants are clear or coloured resins that are applied to the pits, grooves and fissures of teeth in order to prevent tooth decay. The sealant makes these grooves smoother and shallower making it harder for plaque to accumulate in these areas.

All molar and premolar teeth should be sealed as soon as they appear in the mouth. This simple, cheap procedure is a highly successful method in reducing tooth decay.

Fluoride is one of the essential minerals required for life.  It is an element found freely in nature.  It is found in some water supplies however the quantities are often too small to be of any benefit.

Fluoride is essential to meet the needs for growing bones and teeth in children.  It helps retain calcium and therefore is important for the formation of healthy teeth and bones.  It helps prevent tooth decay by strengthening enamel and can inhibit plaque bacteria.

Systemic fluoride is ingested from water as well as dietary supplements.  Topical fluoride is administered locally to teeth in the form of toothpaste, mouthwashes and gels.  Please discuss your child’s fluoride needs with your dentist.

Regular check ups
It is important for your child to have regular 6 monthly check ups to monitor growth and development of the mouth as well as to make sure that there are no decay problems. They also become less nervous with regular consultations as problems are prevented or dealt with at an early stage.

Mouthwash can be of benefit but one must be careful that it is not swallowed.  Never use alcohol-containing mouthwashes for children. “Listerfluor for kids” can be used as a daily mouthwash.

Tooth mousse
Tooth mousse is a cream that is applied to the teeth that prevents tooth decay.  It is safe and contains no fluoride.    It protects teeth, helps neutralize acids in the mouth, helps stimulate saliva flow, strengthens enamel and desensitizes teeth.    It can be used either once or twice daily.  It is derived from a milk protein and therefore should not be used in children with milk protein allergies.

Xylitol is a natural, low calorie sweetener found in many fruits and vegetables.  Xylitol plays an important role in the prevention of tooth decay. It helps to starve and kill bacteria.

It can be found in many sugar-free chewing gums as well as in some sweets. It is recommended that one chew xylitol containing chewing-gum after meals and after high acid intakes.