Good oral hygiene habits start early. As a parent you know that it is your responsibility to keep your children healthy and safe but many times oral hygiene falls by the waysides leaving your child vulnerable to dental problems. Ask yourself these questions:
~ Has my child been to see a dentist?
~ Does my child know how to properly care for their own teeth including brushing and flossing?
~ Does my child have a tooth-friendly diet?
~ Is my child at risk for dental problems due to bad habits now? (i.e. thumb sucking, bottles/pacifiers)
Now it goes without saying that age appropriate behaviors apply (we don’t expect your one year old to know how to floss) but do you know when or where to start? To help you gain a better understanding of your child’s oral health we will use these four questions to break down the do’s and don’ts of pediatric dental care.
DO take your child to the dentist early
Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to take their children to their first dentist visit before they even turn one year old? It may be strange to think of taking your baby to see the dentist but once they have teeth those teeth need to be cared for. Even if your child only has a few baby teeth, getting them to a dentist early will help them get used to the dental chair and help reduce their fears of going to the dentist when they’re older. Early visits are also a great opportunity for you to talk to your dentist about how to care for your child’s teeth as they get older. Plan to visit the dentist every six months after their second birthday and expect their first set of x-rays to take place between the ages of 4 and 6. It is also a great idea to have a fluoride treatment done at each dental visit to help strengthen their growing teeth and most insurance’s cover this procedure for children. As your child starts to lose their baby teeth and permanent ones start to come in (around 5 or 6) plan on getting sealants done on their molars. Sealants are a thin plastic coating applied directly to teeth to help prevent bacteria from settling into the pits and grooves of teeth that are susceptible to decay. By the time your child turns eight you can plan on taking them to an orthodontist.
DON’T reinforce fears
If you’re concerned about how your child will behave for the dentist, don’t be. Your dentist will have the proper training and experience to work with young children, you don’t even need to take them to a pediatric specialist unless they have special needs or are recommended by your pediatrician. If your child is showing fear towards dentist visits or during their visits there are ways to help them adjust. Make sure they know why they are going to the dentist and what to expect when they’re there. The dentist will also help ease your child’s fears by explaining what he’s doing and by showing them a little fun with a “chair ride.” Your child will eventually understand that the dentist is there to keep them healthy, just like their doctor. Reinforce good behavior at the dentist, when they do something right tell them they’re doing a good job! All of these measures will not only help keep your child’s mouth healthy but will also keep you from wanting to pull your hair out whenever dentist visits come around!
DO teach your children good habits while they’re young
Preparing your child to have a lifetime of good oral health should start when they’re young. You can start caring for your child’s oral health even before they have teeth. For young infants it is recommended to keep their gums clean by wiping them with a clean rag or using a fingertip brush. Not only will this keep their gums clean and healthy but also helps them get used to having something cleaning the inside of their mouth. The moment teeth start to erupt is when you should start brushing. Use a piece of moist gauze to wipe away plaque when they’re first erupting and move to a toothbrush once they have several teeth. You can get a toothbrush with a small head for your child, you don’t even have to purchase one if you bring them to the dentist – we’ll give you one!
Try to clean your child’s teeth twice a day, just like you. Having a set routine will be most beneficial for your child and can easily be incorporated into morning and night routines. Many parents worry about using fluoridated toothpaste but it is important to help strengthen their teeth. Dr. Harmon recommends using just a “smear” of toothpaste when brushing and to keep toothpaste out of reach otherwise. You should also be flossing your child’s teeth the moment two teeth erupt next to each other. Many of the cavities we see in younger children sit in between their teeth. Early flossing habits will help prevent this and, again, gets your child into a routine. As your child gets older have them brush and floss their own teeth with close supervision to make sure they are using safe techniques and getting everything clean. Who knows, maybe helping your child create a healthy routine will help you keep up with your own healthy oral hygiene!
DON’T create unhealthy eating habits
We all know that we should be avoiding candy and sweets but there are many other foods that can be harmful to your child’s teeth that you may not know about. When choosing a snack for your child try to keep to healthy snacks such as fruits and veggies, yogurt, cheese, and lean meats. Some culprits that can really harm your child’s teeth include popcorn, ice, chewy foods, citrus, starchy foods, and juice.
Popcorn kernels and ice are much too hard for your child’s teeth to handle and can cause chips and cracks in the enamel. You wouldn’t believe that amount of phone calls we get from people eating popcorn! Starchy, refined foods such as chips, crackers, bread, and cereal can be just as bad as candy. These foods break down into simple sugars that linger in the mouth and cause decay. Just think of how many times you give your child crackers or cheerios. Chewy, sticky foods are one of the worst things for anyone’s teeth. You make think they are eating healthy when you give them dried fruits but the sticky substance get stuck in between teeth and in the grooves of teeth and eat away tooth enamel. And then there’s juice. Giving a child juice is a common occurrence but many juices are packed with sugar and have little to no nutritional value.
Now we’re not telling you to cut all of these food items out of your child’s diet. When you do give your children certain foods and beverages just make sure to clean their teeth well afterwards. Some simple switches can also help keep their teeth healthy as well such as eating whole wheat foods instead of refined starchy foods and giving your child water rather than juice or soda.
DO avoid pacifiers, bottles, and thumb sucking
Bottles and pacifiers play a big role in your child’s life when they’re young but it is important to know when to wean your child from the bottle or pacifier. Every child is different. Some may kick the habit quickly and some may fight you tooth and nail to keep their bottle and pacifier around. You are the best judge at when to wean your child from a pacifier but it is recommended to limit its use once your child starts to speak. Pacifier’s put your child’s mouth in an unnatural position and talking around the pacifier can distort their speech. A pacifier can also cause many different tooth problems such as causing openings in their bite, pushing teeth in unnatural directions (crooked), and creating gaps that may also cause lisps. Limiting your child’s pacifier time or weaning them from it completely at an early age is best for their oral health. Finger and thumb sucking is very similar to using a pacifier and should be discouraged.
Bottle weaning, like the pacifier, is different for each child but the recommendation is to start weaning them from their bottle when they are about one. At this point they have the dexterity and coordination to handle drinking from a cup. Some pediatricians even recommend introducing your child to a sippy cup at six months old. Sucking on a bottle has the same adverse effects as a pacifier but can also cause severe tooth decay often called bottle rot. When the bottle spends a significant time in your mouth with milk and juices the sugar breaks down into harmful bacteria that eat through teeth quickly. For good oral health it is best to wean your baby from bottles and pacifiers early.
DO realize that baby teeth ARE IMPORTANT!
We hear it all the time, baby teeth are just temporary so it really doesn’t matter if they get cavities, right? WRONG! Baby teeth are just as important as permanent teeth. They are used for chewing, speaking, and of course giving those cute smiles! We can’t stress enough that creating good habits early is the most beneficial for your child’s oral health. Never think that you can let your child’s oral health go uncared for just because they are “just baby teeth.” Good habits today will keep your child’s smile healthy for the rest of their lives!