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Many parents have a tough time determining the dental care their kids need. According to the CDC, 20% of elementary age children have untreated tooth decay and nearly half of people in the U.S. have some gum disease. Good oral health is essential to children’s overall health and parents have a huge influence on their kids’ habit development. Here are six things you can do to set your children up for a healthy mouth for a lifetime
From the moment babies are born, their parents set an example for how to act, how to communicate, and how to brush teeth. Make your brushing and flossing routine a visible good habit in your home. As your children grow, they will look forward to brushing and flossing their own teeth. This sets the tone for positive feelings around brushing rather than it feeling like a chore. If your child is reluctant to brushing and flossing (mine was too!) don’t give in if they put up a fuss. Make it clear from early on that it is an important part of your every day routine, and they will come to expect it. Don’t let them off the hook!
Before a child has teeth you can clean the gums by running a clean, damp washcloth over the gums to clear away harmful bacteria. Once the child's first tooth appears you may begin cleaning with an appropriately-sized toothbrush and fluoridated toothpaste. The amount of toothpaste can be very minimal – a grain of rice or tiny smear at first tooth erupting. Around age 2-3 you can move up to a pea size amount of toothpaste (see photo below) and start teaching the child to spit into the sink instead of swallow the toothpaste. When your child's teeth begin touching each other you may start flossing.
Sugary foods, juices, candy (particularly sticky candy, gummy vitamins, or fruit leather / roll-ups) can cause cavities and erode enamel. If your kids eat these snacks, have them brush their teeth or rinse their mouth after eating to wash away the sugar. This also goes for taking sweetened liquid medicines - always have kids rinse or brush afterward.
Putting a baby to sleep with a bottle can harm a baby's teeth. Sugars from formula, milk or juice that stay on a baby's teeth for hours can eat away at the enamel that protects against tooth decay. This can lead to "bottle mouth" or "baby bottle tooth decay." It’s important to teach your child to drink from a cup earlier because cups are less likely to cause the liquid to collect around the teeth. Brush and floss just before bedtime, and do not give your child any other food or drink, except water, until the next morning. (This is once they are past the infant stage of needing to nurse or feed throughout the night – usually by 1 year if not before). Also, don’t wait until it’s too late in the evening. If your child is overly tired, this will cause the toothbrushing to be more of a struggle than it has to be. When your child is tired, you will not get much cooperation in many aspects of a bedtime routine, I know! Try starting the winding down/bedtime routine a little earlier before it is too close to bedtime.
Kids can start brushing their teeth with the help from a grown up around age 2-3. Find something they’re interested in and make it a game. Say, “You brush first, then I will check and see if there are any “bugs” left (obviously if your child is terrified of bugs, this might not be fun for them) but whatever it is, “Let me check to see if your teeth are princess sparkling, I still see some dirty spots, etc.”. Children will not be ready to completely brush alone until about age 7-8 without going back and checking everywhere since they do not have the manual dexterity to maneuver the toothbrush in all areas consistently. It can take until age 10-11 for kids to perfect their flossing (not the dance ha!) skills on their own. Other things to consider trying: A young child may gladly brush for a sticker or a spot on a chart; make it a group activity (they may be more likely to join in if they see the grownups or older siblings brushing); let your child choose their toothbrush/toothpaste. Kids 5 or older can pick their own options from ones you have narrowed down or approve. They may be more committed to it when they know they have their own choice.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants receive an oral health assessment when they turn 6 months old. Be sure your child has their first dental appointment by their first birthday. Getting them in when they are young and them seeing that it can be a fun place is important for a first dental visit introduction, setting them up for success for a positive dental experience for the rest of their lives.
Above all, just like many other aspects of hygiene and self care, if you make all things tooth related light and fun, then they will think it fun too!
If you have any tips or tricks that worked for getting your child on board for brushing/flossing, please share. Like they say, it takes a village! All of us at Lakefront Family Dentistry are happy to incorporate other wins that have worked for you and your kiddos too!
Happy Smiles, Happy Life!