When it comes to your child’s teeth and gums, you can start laying the foundation for a lifetime of great oral health right away. Early care of baby teeth helps prevent cavities and decay that lead to future speech problems, early tooth loss and damaged adult teeth.
Here are simple ways parents can encourage good dental hygiene for their children and prevent cavities — the country’s most common chronic childhood illness.
Promote healthy eating and limit sugar consumption.
Just as with adults, the foods and drinks you allow your child to consume will have a huge impact on the health of his teeth and gums. That’s because when your child eats or drinks foods rich in sugar, it causes the natural bacteria in the mouth to produce high levels of acid. This acid attacks the enamel and causes cavities.
To discourage plaque buildup, only allow your child to eat sugary foods in moderation. The main cause of cavities isn’t how much sugar is in your child’s diet, but how often your child is eating these sugar-filled foods. The more often your child’s teeth are exposed to sugar, the more likely they’ll decay. To protect his teeth, limit sweets to mealtimes and avoid hard and sticky foods or candies, such as suckers and fruit snacks, which stay in the mouth for a long time.
Parents should also avoid putting their baby or young child to bed with a bottle of milk or juice, as this encourages the sugar to settle on the teeth for an extended period of time, which promotes tooth decay. Water is the best beverage between meals, as constant sipping on juice and milk throughout the day will only coat a child’s teeth in sugar.
Children will mimic the eating habits of their parents, so remember to set a good example by eating a healthy, well-balanced diet at home. Offer healthy snacks in place of cookies and soda, such as carrots, apples, nuts and cheeses. Always read food labels, and choose foods and drinks without a lot of added sugars. A balanced diet will benefit your entire family’s smiles and total body health.
Teach healthy brushing and flossing habits.
Parents can begin an oral hygiene routine even before their child’s first tooth appears. Simply use a damp, clean cloth to gently wipe your baby’s gums after every feeding. After the first tooth appears around six months of age, a soft-bristled, child-sized brush with water can be used to clean the tooth after every meal.
As the child gets older, teach him the importance of brushing twice a day for a full two minutes each time to remove plaque and food from the teeth that cause cavities. Brush for your child using a small, kid-sized toothbrush and pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste until he is old enough to clean his teeth on his own.
Flossing should also be included as an integral part of your child’s oral hygiene as soon as the child has two teeth that touch. Floss for your child until you feel comfortable in his ability to do it without your help. Once-daily flossing will help remove food debris from between the teeth where regular brushing can’t reach.
Establish a relationship with the dentist early.
The American Dental Association recommends that a child’s first visit take place within six months after the first tooth erupts, but no later than the child’s first birthday. The goal of the first appointment is to familiarize the child with the dentist and office, as well examine his current tooth development, identify any problems, and help instill habits for healthier care at home.
Choose a dentist who is specially trained to care for the unique dental needs of children. This will ensure your child is receiving gentle, kid-friendly care that will help him feel at ease during appointments while working to build a positive attitude about oral hygiene. Twice-yearly dental checkups and diligent care at home are the keys to protecting your child’s teeth from decay and encouraging great dental health at a young age.
As a parent, you play a big role in keeping your child’s smile healthy and clean. Prevention starts at home with good eating habits and proper brushing every day. Ultimately, the best way to teach children how to care for their teeth is to lead by example. Combined with routine dental appointments, you can help your child maintain a healthy, beautiful smile into adulthood and beyond.
Darla Scheidt works at Grove Dental Associates as the Marketing Director. Grove Dental has become a multi-specialty group dental practice with offices in Lombard, Downers Grove, Wheaton, and Bolingbrook. Our dentist have been in practice for over 40 years, and stay on the cutting edge of dentistry to better serve patients.