Caring For The Teeth Of A Sick Child: What Parents Should Know

Posted on: 27 August 2015


When your child gets a bug from preschool or even just from playing at the park, you do your best to keep their temperature down and keep them hydrated, but dental care can fall by the wayside as you try to get your child back on the path of good health. However, because the body's immune system becomes stressed during illness and because the nature of being sick poses some unique risks, you should actually be more vigilant when your child is fighting off a bacterial infection or a virus. Here are some of the things you should do to make sure that your child's teeth are not a casualty of illness.

1. Hydrate the right way.

If your child is having a hard time keeping anything down, you likely give them whatever will stay in their stomach-- including typical dental no-no's like juice and soda. These liquids are sometimes necessary for a child to get some form of energy when eating food is not possible, but they are acidic and will still lead to decay. Therefore, encourage your child to drink plenty of water, or water down juices and sodas to reduce the impact they have. You can also have your child drink fluids through a straw positioned at the back of the mouth, which will prevent the sugary beverages from giving the teeth a bath in corn syrup which will feed thriving bacteria in the mouth.

2. Rinse the mouth out often.

If your child is vomiting frequently, the teeth will take a beating as the highly acidic nature of the contents of the stomach will begin to dissolve enamel and accelerate decay that is already present. You might be tempted to brush your child's teeth after each episode, but this is actually detrimental. Instead, have your child rinse the mouth out thoroughly with water. If you can, dissolve a little baking soda in the water to help neutralize the acid. After a few hours have passed, it is safe to brush. Brushing immediately after vomiting can actually cause more damage to enamel as the acids make the teeth softer. The water treatment will help to reduce stress on the teeth in a more gentle way.

If your child is suffering from high fever, rinsing out the mouth can help to remove extra bacteria that the body is too weak to fight.

3. Encourage your child to stick to the daily routine. 

Being sick often means lying on the couch eating crackers and watching cartoons. However, your child's routine of brushing twice daily and flossing should still be enforced, especially because the simple carbohydrate diet that most children follow when sick is bad for the teeth and the body is weak from fighting off the illness. If your child can't handle the taste or smell of toothpaste, brushing with just water is better than not brushing at all. For children that are very lethargic, you may need to help them brush their teeth properly. Finally, if the brush in the mouth triggers a gag reflex that provokes more vomiting, it may be best to hold off, but have your child still swish water and floss if they can.

If you have questions about good dental care during your child's illness, call your pediatric dentist for more suggestions for helping your child to care for their teeth even when they are unwell. They have special training for motivating children to brush and floss, and may be able to give you some more ideas for early childhood dental care. 

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