Dental decay is one of the significant pediatric health concerns in the United States, with more than half of children aged 6 to 8 having had a cavity in at least one of their baby teeth. Absenteeism in school, difficulty concentrating, and low grades are common in children with poor oral health.
Building a healthy dental foundation for your child starts at an early age. During the first five years of your child’s growth, their brain develops rapidly, picking up much information along the way. What they learn as kids, will carry on into adulthood, including their dental hygiene habits.
Brushing teeth twice a day should not be an option or suggestion; it should be a strict rule to help keep your child’s teeth strong and bright as they grow. Setting the tone of a healthy dental practice from birth is crucial. When your child’s first tooth sprouts, you should begin taking them to the dentist. Teeth start to grow before their first birthday. If your toddler’s teeth take too long to come in, take them to the dentist before they turn one.
Children learn by observing; let them learn by example. By setting a precedent for your little ones, they will follow suit. Brush and floss with them to show them how it should be correctly done, and they will never depart from it. Reinforce the amount of time they should spend brushing their teeth (two times, two minutes daily). By showing them the correct way to floss and brush, they will make oral health part of their routine. Keep encouraging them that it is an easy and fun way to get a bright, beautiful smile. Here are tips to help your child develop early healthy habits.
1. What to Do When Teething Starts
Teething is a normal part of life. Before your child’s first tooth grows, wipe their gums with a clean damp cloth or gauze. You can also use a soft-bristled toddler toothbrush to brush their gums gently. This preventative measure ensures their teeth will develop with minimal issues or complications.
When teething begins (4 to 8 months), your child might feel discomfort or distress, best described as a burning sensation. You can minimize their discomfort by giving them a chew toy to safely nibble on, formula popsicles, or something cold to suck on, like a spoon or teething rings to soothe their gums. You can also massage their gums when cleaning their gums to ease discomfort. If your child is experiencing pain or discomfort accompanied by diarrhea or fever, consult your pediatrician as soon as possible. The following tips can help you once their teeth come in:
- Gently brush their teeth twice daily using a small toothbrush or a finger cot.
- Do not use toothpaste until they are 18 months. When that time comes, use a tiny amount (rice grain size) until they turn three.
- From 3 to 12 years, use fluoride toothpaste and ensure they spit it out. The amount of toothpaste should be about the size of a pea.
- Show your child how to brush correctly by demonstrating in the mirror.
- Stick to a routine you can follow to keep your little one’s teeth healthy.
- Reward your little ones when they maintain consistency to keep them motivated.
- Avoid cleaning your child’s pacifiers with your mouth since you can spread cavities on them.
- Encourage your child to drink from a regular cup instead of a sippy cup by their first birthday.
2. Healthy Diet, Healthy Teeth
A diet high in sugar is one of the most common causes of tooth decay in children. Keep sugary treats like candy, sticky, gooey, starchy snacks, crackers, and sugar-laden cereals away from your child. Sugary foods can wedge between your child’s teeth and cause cavities. Sodas and certain beverages are highly sugary and acidic and can significantly harm your child’s teeth enamel . Introducing your child to healthy foods from a young age is a great way to keep them and their teeth healthy.
A nutrient-dense diet rich in calcium, phosphorus, vitamins, and proteins is recommended to keep your child’s teeth and bones healthy. Healthy foods and snacks for strong teeth include:
- Meats, poultry, and fish
- Dairy products such as cheese sticks or unflavored yogurt
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach or kales
- Fresh, colorful fruits like apples
- Plenty of water as the primary source of hydration when your child is thirsty
3. Regular Dental Visits Are Important
A pediatric dentist is the best person to see when your child’s teeth need a dental examination. They are highly trained and specialize in treating dental issues in children. If your child is scared to go to the dentist, encourage them and say positive things about their dentist and the cool, relaxed environment at the dental clinic. Avoid discussing any negative experiences you might have faced at the dentist.
A regular dental exam involves checking whether your child’s dental and facial features are on track and getting your child’s teeth cleaned and cavity treated. The earlier a problem is discovered, the better the outcome of treatment. Avoid putting off any dental work recommended by your dentist.
Tips for Making Oral Hygiene Fun for Your Kid
Introduce One Thing at A Time
Take it easy when introducing the different things or ways to take care of their oral hygiene. Teach them one thing at a time, so they do not feel overwhelmed or discouraged. Start with the importance of brushing and how to do it, then gradually go to flossing. Answer their questions and make it seem as fun as possible.
Use Brushing Videos or Reading Materials and Pictures
Teach your child to brush using videos, pictures, or reading materials to help accelerate their learning process. It is also a fun and exciting method to introduce brushing to your little one. The materials also make it easier for your child to understand the importance of dental health.
Create Fun Methods to Make Brushing/Flossing Fun
Make brushing fun by using games, dances, or sing-along songs to make it enjoyable and memorable for them. You can even create a brushing playlist or a catchy, fun song by changing up your child’s favorite song or nursery rhyme. You can even download a dental or brushing app. You can also use a brushing chart, place it in their rooms and give them stars for good brushing behavior.
Use Rewards for Motivation
Create a routine that your child can follow every day. Award them when they stick to the routine, like taking them to the park to motivate them to stick to it. Rewards also give them positive reinforcement to encourage their good dental habits.
Use Fun-Looking Toothbrushes/Flosses
Buy your kid cute flosses and toothbrushes in their favorite color and fun designs to get your child excited about brushing and flossing. You can even take them with you when purchasing them so that they choose the one that appeals to them the most.
Introduce your child to healthy oral habits from a young age since it will serve them a lifetime. Children learn by observation, so set a good example and keep encouraging them to brush even when they are not in the mood for it. For more information please contact Children’s Dentistry of San Diego.