When you’re a parent, everyone has advice to share, from which diapers to use to how much screen time is appropriate. This often leaves us wondering if we’re doing it “right.” While much in parenting is subjective, your child’s oral health isn’t. Your family’s oral health is important to us, so read on to find answers to some questions parents commonly ask.
When should my child see a dentist?
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children see a dentist soon after their first tooth comes in, or at least by their first birthday. At this first visit, your dentist will perform a modified exam while your baby sits on your lap. While this may seem young, these visits can identify potential problems early, helping to avoid future dental issues and expense. Tooth decay, if left untreated in the earliest stages of life, can have serious implications for a child’s long-term health and well-being. Additionally, one study found that the cost of dental care in the first five years for children who had a dental visit before the age of one was 40% less than for those who did not have an initial visit in their first year. Early check-ups also help children get used to visiting the dentist, so they’ll have less fear about going as they get older.
What’s the best way to care for my baby’s oral health?
With oral health, prevention is key and this starts even before your child has teeth. As an initial step, we recommend using a clean, damp washcloth to gently clear harmful bacteria away from your baby’s gums. Many people don’t realize that babies can get tooth decay. This is especially true for children who go to bed with a bottle, as sugars from juice, formula, or milk that stay on a baby’s teeth for hours can eat away at the enamel. When this happens, the front teeth can get discolored, pocked, and pitted. Cavities might form and, in severe cases, the decayed teeth may need to be pulled. Around the age of six months, many children can switch from a bottle to a sippy cup with a straw or hard spout. This helps prevent liquid from pooling around their teeth, increasing the potential for decay. When your child’s primary or baby teeth come in, brush them with an infant toothbrush twice a day, making sure to massage the areas where teeth have not yet erupted.
Toddlers and beyond
As children grow, they can take a more active role in their oral health but should still be supervised until about the age of 8.
- Around age 2, your child can use a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste (i.e., the size of a grain of rice) and should learn to spit while brushing. It’s best to avoid giving your child water to swish and spit because this can make swallowing toothpaste more likely.
- Kids ages 3 and up should use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
- Regular flossing is another key part of your child’s oral care routine. Buying floss picks that come with a handle make it easier for children to navigate between teeth.
- Teach your child to brush their tongue to help reduce bacteria in the mouth.
- Be sure that your child knows to brush his or her teeth before bed, after all eating and drinking (except water) is done.
- If your child plays sports, make sure they wear a mouth guard. This is a soft, plastic retainer that covers the teeth and helps protect your child’s mouth from injuries.
How do I get my child onboard?
Introducing kids to new routines can be a struggle, but you can help make dental hygiene fun with these tips:
- Allow children to choose their own toothbrush. Selecting one that has a favorite color or character can add excitement to the routine.
- Let children help choose toothpaste. Picking their favorite flavor can be great motivation to brush.
- Read books or watch videos that talk about dental hygiene.
- Use a timer to make sure kids brush their teeth for two minutes. Playing a favorite song is a great way to help keep track of time.
- Reward children for good oral care but not with sugary treats. Offer something healthy or simple instead, like a sticker or gold star.
- Plan a fun activity following your child’s dentist visit.
As kids grow, it’s important to make routine dental checkups a priority. Depending on your child’s age, your dentist may recommend visits anywhere from once every 3 months to once a year. Enjoying sugary foods in moderation, encouraging regular brushing and flossing, and working with your dentist will pave the way to good dental health for your child.
We know parenting young children can be tough. If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s oral health, we’re happy to help. Don’t hesitate to contact our dental team.