Bright and Healthy Smiles for the Whole Family

By now, hopefully you’ve found a pediatrician you–and your children–like, trust and feel comfortable with. Regular check-ups are essential to staying on top of your kid’s health. But as a mom, you should also know how important it is to take care of yourself as well. We recently wrote about the essential doctors every woman needs to be seeing and how often; it’s an important list worth memorizing.

A dentist for the grownups in the family was on that list–and once your toddler starts teething, he or she will need one too. When it comes to best dental practices, including when your child should first pay a visit to the dentist and general oral hygiene tips, we reached out to Dr. Mary Creps, a mother (to a two-year old daughter and 4-month-old baby triplets!) and dentist. Dr. Creps took some time out of her full schedule to give us the low-down on how both parents and kids can maintain a bright, beautiful and healthy smile. Read on to see what the busy working mom had to say on a subject close to her heart.

ES: When should you first bring your kid to see a dentist?

Dr. Creps: The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends your child be brought to the dentist upon the eruption of his or her first tooth- or at least by his or her first birthday. To many people this seems early, but it’s really beneficial to both get the child familiarized with the dental setting and to educate parents or caregivers on how to best care for the child’s teeth.

ES: Should kids start brushing their teeth (with the help of parents) as soon as they start teething?

Dr. Creps: Ideally, yes. The baby’s gums can be wiped with gauze or a wet washcloth periodically, and gentle brushing twice a day with a baby toothbrush can be done once the first tooth erupts. The ADA now recommends a smear of fluoridated toothpaste be used under age three, and a pea-sized amount from ages 3-6.

ES: How often should adults get their teeth checked?

Dr. Creps: Adults should be seeing the dentist twice a year for cleanings and check-ups. If periodontal disease is detected, shorter intervals are sometimes recommended to achieve and maintain better periodontal health.

ES: What are some ways of preventing cavities? 

Dr. Creps: First and foremost, brushing and flossing daily. Fluoride also plays a huge role–make sure you’re using a fluoridated toothpaste. Try to limit consumption of overly sugary foods and beverages. These cause the bacteria in your plaque to produce acid, and when your mouth is an acidic environment, enamel starts to weaken. When you do have these foods or drinks, try to eat them with meals and not sip or snack all day. This gives your mouth a chance to get rid of that acidic environment.

ES: How important is flossing? Should kids get in the habit of it as well? 

Dr. Creps: Flossing is really important and should be done as soon as kids have two teeth that touch–usually their back teeth once they erupt. It is these areas that a toothbrush cannot reach, making them at risk for forming tooth decay. Flossing should ideally be done once a day.

ES: What about mouthwash?

Dr. Creps: Mouthwash is a great adjunct to regular brushing and flossing, but shouldn’t replace either. Some mouthwashes simply freshen breath, while others are used to reduce plaque and bacteria that can cause gum disease. Some also contain fluoride. If you’re going to use mouthwash, try to look for one with the ADA seal, which means it has been tested for optimal safety and effectiveness.

ES: Do the all-natural toothpastes work as well as the name brands like Crest and Colgate?

Dr. Creps: It’s really not so much the toothpaste you use but how effective and thorough your toothbrushing is. Use a soft toothbrush to brush at least twice a day, two minutes each time, and spend time gently brushing all surfaces of your teeth. A toothpaste containing fluoride is best, as it helps to strengthen and remineralize enamel that has been weakened by acid or bacteria.

ES: So, you recommend soft brushes for both kids and their parents?

Dr. Creps: Yes, soft brushes are best to use. Harder bristles aren’t needed to clean plaque off of tooth surfaces and can actually damage teeth and gums if used too firmly. Brushing too aggressively with any brush can cause the wearing away of tooth enamel over time and the eventual recession of gums, causing exposure of sensitive root surfaces.

ES: Who should use an electric toothbrush?

Dr. Creps: Electric toothbrushes can be used by anyone, but are especially helpful for people who have a difficult time using a manual toothbrush. They are both equally effective when used properly.

ES: Are some people’s teeth naturally whiter than others? Or does food and drink play a big role in this? (e.g. red wine, coffee, tea stains)

Dr. Creps: Genetics does play a role in the natural shade of everyone’s enamel. Food and drink play a huge role, however. Coffee, tea, red wine, dark sodas–all of these can contribute to tooth darkening.

ES: What about adults seeking a more pearly grin? Do you recommend white strips? Bleaching?

Dr. Creps: White strips and home or in-office bleaching supervised by a dentist are perfectly safe and great ways to help the appearance of your smile. It should be noted that any dental restorations, including crowns or caps, veneers, and tooth-colored fillings will not whiten.

Once you get into the habit of helping your kids brush their teeth at night, consider the other important parts of a sound nighttime routine. The ideas in the slideshow will make getting everyone to bed a cinch.