Published: February 1, 2020
By: Paige Townley
When it comes to parenting, there’s always lots of questions. Is that safe? What food should we be feeding baby? Does that cough mean we should go to the doctor? Is our child reaching milestones on time?
What can sometimes be overlooked, at least with younger children, is dental hygiene. Healthy teeth are important to anyone’s overall health, and that includes children. Whether a child is an infant or an adolescent, keeping their teeth clean and healthy is a must. Creating those healthy dental habits while your child is young can set them on the right path for a healthy mouth in the future.
Here’s a rundown on what you need to know to keep your children’s teeth healthy and create a lifetime of positive dental habits.
Baby Teeth vs. Permanent Teeth
It’s a mistake to think that baby teeth aren’t as important as permanent teeth. On average, most children begin to develop baby teeth between the ages of six to 10 months old. While it may be easy to think that taking care of baby teeth isn’t as important because they will “fall out anyway,” the fact is, baby teeth are important to a child’s development. Baby teeth help children eat, and they also help children develop their speech. Another role of baby teeth is that they help guide permanent teeth into position.
Start the Brushing Early
Don’t wait until teeth are fully in to begin brushing. Start brushing as soon as you see them, notes Dr. Angelica Rohner. For infants, Rohner suggests using a wet washcloth to gently clean the teeth and gums. Once a child has four to eight teeth, she recommends parents begin gently brushing them with a toothbrush twice a day. “Unfortunately, we are seeing cavities in children as young as 12 months,” she adds. “This means it is important to start cleaning your child’s teeth as soon as possible. Brushing at an early age not only helps with avoiding cavities, but also makes it easier as they get older since you’ve already started the routine.”
Schedule Dentist Appointments
According to the American Dental Association, children should have their first dentist appointment by their first birthday. The first dental visit should at least coincide with the age at which their teeth are erupting, Rohner says. “Be sure to take your child to a pediatric dentist – pediatric dentists are the pediatricians of children’s teeth. It is imperative to choose a dental home at a young age to make sure that they grow up with a positive outlook toward oral health,” she says. Children should also visit their pediatric dentist twice a year.
Get Enough Fluoride
Fluoride is important for teeth: it helps strengthen the enamel, thereby protecting their teeth. If your child drinks water, there’s a good chance they are getting some fluoride because many communities incorporate fluoride into the water supply. Regardless, fluoride toothpaste should eventually be introduced. Dr. Clark Thomas recommends switching from training toothpaste to fluoride toothpaste around the age of two or when the child is fully capable of spitting out the toothpaste.
Don’t Forget to Floss
Dental floss is beneficial in cleaning areas of the teeth that a toothbrush can’t get, and that goes for kids too. Wherever teeth are very close together, floss is needed to clean those contacts in order to prevent cavities. “Our saying is that wherever teeth touch, we have to floss daily,” says Olga M. Sanchez-Hernandez D.M.D., M.S., M.S. of McCalla Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry. “One is never too young to start flossing if the teeth need it.”
Flossing should be done once a day, every day. “For children under six years old, parental help is most definitely needed,” adds Sanchez-Hernandez. “Your dentist can give you tips on how to position yourself to best help your child and what flossing products are available that can better fit your needs.”
Create Healthy Food Habits
Healthy food habits can mean a healthier mouth for children. That means limiting sugary foods and beverages that can erode enamel and lead to cavities, which includes juices, chocolate milk, and gummies—including gummy vitamins, Thomas notes. While you can’t always keep children from enjoying those items, it’s important to at least make sure they brush and floss whenever they do eat or drink sugary treats.
Parents should especially make sure those sugary drinks and treats are avoided at night after kids have brushed their teeth. “It’s extremely important that when children go to bed, their teeth are clean and they do not come in contact with any substance that contains sugar (like milk, juice, sweet tea, and soft drinks) through the night,” adds Sanchez-Hernandez. “If they get thirsty after teeth are brushed at night, they can have water.”
Lose the Pacifier
As most parents know, there are many benefits to letting a child use a pacifier – it’s an easier habit to break than thumb sucking – but when it comes to dental care, there aren’t any benefits of it. If used too long, a pacifier can affect how a child’s teeth lineup and even change the shape of their mouth. Thomas recommends getting rid of a pacifier by the age of two. “But if the child starts sucking their thumb, give it back and work toward no pacifier,” he explains.
Build Interest in the Topic
Have a child that just isn’t interested in brushing their teeth? Then make it fun and interesting! Explain why it’s important and illustrate the process – maybe even let them “practice” by brushing the teeth of their favorite stuffed animal. Make your child feel part of the process by letting them pick out their own toothbrush. And if they still aren’t very interested, find a way to make brushing a fun game for them.
Paige Townley is a freelance writer.