If you want to keep your kids smiling for the rest of their lives, then oral health is key! As a pediatric dentist and now an educator for pediatric dental assistants – I know how important it is to teach kids good habits early on.
A while back we shared a list that was going around Facebook that gave some secrets to keeping your kids cavity free. I decided to take that list as a baseline and expand it into a blog post. So here’s a little more information about those so-called secrets – most of which are common sense!
Oral Health Begins at Birth
You can clean your newborn’s mouth by wiping it with a clean damp cloth after each feeding and burping. The same process that affects teeth affects gums before teeth even come in. The sugars in breastmilk and formula and the acidity when they spit up should be cleaned out regularly, at least daily. This also gets your baby used to oral hygiene.
Avoid Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
It’s a common thing to leave a bottle in the crib with your baby or toddler when they go down for naps or at bedtime. This can be dangerous for their oral health because it basically ensures that the sugar in the milk or juice is on their teeth and gums throughout the night. You should always clean their mouth before they go to bed at night. If they need a bottle, then leave one with water.
Brush Those Baby Teeth
There are many products that allow you to very gently brush the baby teeth as they come in, usually around 6 months old. If you start early with brushing their teeth then they will become accustomed to it and it will be less of a challenge in later years. I’ve found that many babies, especially when they are teething, actually enjoy the process because it helps their gums feel better by chewing on something or feeling the pressure of your fingertip.
Establish a Family Dentist
Having a dentist that your child can get to know and feel comfortable with is key to successful oral health for your child as he or she grows. Their first appointment with a dentist should be by the age of one and continue regularly after that. As they experience dental appointments and learn what happens there, they will be confident and at ease through any and all treatments they need.
End Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Habits
Be sure to end any thumb sucking or pacifier habits before their permanent teeth come in, around the age of 6. It’s a soothing mechanism that infants use and it meets their biological and psychological needs at that time, but it does not serve a purpose beyond infancy. And as children continue to suck as they get older, it shifts the teeth and arches in ways that may cause them pain and discomfort in later years. I know it can be hard if your child is really attached to their pacifier, but it is for their own good.
Fluoride For the Win
Fluoride is in most drinking water and, of course, in most toothpastes. This helps to keep your child’s teeth healthy and strong. When such things are unavailable, there are fluoride supplements you can look into with your pediatrician or pediatric dentist. Use toothpaste with fluoride starting around age 2.
Seal their Smile
When the 6 year molars come in, your pediatric dentist will generally recommend having sealant applied across the biting surfaces of molars. Sealants are very effective in cavity prevention.
Daily, Monthly, Yearly
An important aspect of a healthy smile for your kids is that they do all those regular, consistent things, like: brushing twice a day for two minutes each time, and flossing daily. If they cannot do this because they lack the dexterity, then you need to help them until they can do a good job on their own. This also includes regular check-ups, cleanings, and other treatments as needed.
Healthy Diet = Healthy Teeth
Unfortunately, much of the food marketed to children is full of sugars, acid, or preservatives. It’s just plain unhealthy! When your child has a good balanced diet with small amounts of sugar, their teeth have the best environment possible to grow as strong as they can.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, your child likes to copy what you do and repeat what you say, usually in the most embarrassing way possible. But one way that won’t ever be anything but excellent is if they copy your good dental habits. If they see you brushing twice a day, then they will want to brush, too. If you schedule your appointment with them and they see your dental work getting done, then they will be ok with their own work being done. So your oral hygiene is as important to them as it is to you.
And one last note:
Children don’t fear the dentist.
So don’t pass it on!
~Dr. Rhea Haugseth