Children’s Dental Health
Again this year, the American Dental Association (ADA) has teamed with the toothpaste company Oral B to promote Children’s Dental Health Month in February. One of the goals of the awareness campaign is to educate parents on the importance of caring for primary teeth and even a baby’s gums before his or her first teeth erupt. Since the baby teeth fall out to make room for the permanent teeth, parents sometimes overlook how essential it is to care for them. The ADA and Oral B also hope to inspire parents to set a good oral health example for their children early in life.
Why It’s Important to Care for Baby Teeth Properly
Even though children lose most of their primary teeth by early elementary school, it’s still important for kids to learn how to brush and floss. A child’s first set of teeth help to establish a path for the permanent teeth to come in later. If your son or daughter loses a primary tooth before it’s ready to come out naturally, it can affect the eruption pattern as well as the proper alignment of future adult teeth.
Clean Your Baby’s Gums Before the First Tooth Arrives
It’s important to keep your baby’s mouth clean even before the first teeth appear. If your baby still receives all nutrition through nursing or formula, use an appropriate sized soft-bristle toothbrush or a gauze pad to clean his or her gums. By doing this after each feeding, it helps to remove bacteria and plaque from the mouth that can lead to tooth decay later.
Once your older infant or toddler starts getting teeth, be certain to brush them twice a day until around age two. Many toddlers start exerting their independence at this age, so take advantage of that by teaching your child the hand-over-hand method of toothbrushing. It’s also important that your toddler sees you caring for your own teeth. One way to get your young child interested in what you’re doing is to ask him or her to hand you the toothpaste or your toothbrush and then demonstrate what you’re using them to do.
When to Introduce Your Child to Toothpaste
The ADA recommends that parents of children under age two buy a toddler-sized toothbrush and place just a dab of toothpaste on it. Be sure to choose a toothpaste with fluoride since most drinking water doesn’t contain enough of it to strengthen your child’s teeth. Between two and five years old, children should use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste when they or their parents brush their teeth.
The goal with kids of this age is to make them increasingly responsible for brushing their own teeth. However, you should still plan to supervise the process at least until the time your child starts school. Toddlers and preschoolers just don’t have the manual dexterity to perform the job perfectly nor do they always understand why they need to brush their teeth in the first place.
Visiting the Dentist for the First Time
The ADA, along with the American Academy of General Dentistry and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, all recommend that parents schedule their child’s first dental appointment by the first birthday. The three organizations also state that a baby should visit the dentist within six months of the first tooth eruption. Most dentists allow parents to hold their baby on their lap during this appointment to help him or her feel more comfortable with the experience.
The advantage of your child visiting the dentist so early in life is that he or she comes to accept dental appointments as just something they need to do. Research indicates that kids who have early positive experiences with the dentist have less anxiety about dental work throughout their life. Therefore, it’s essential to look for a pediatric dentist who treats patients in a gentle and respectful manner.
Cleanings and Exams for Children
Just like adults, children should have a professional cleaning and exam twice a year. Along with teaching and enforcing good oral health habits at home, this is the best way to ensure that your child understands the importance of caring for the teeth and gums. These exams also allow your child’s dentist to diagnose, observe, and treat any dental health problems as soon as possible. Once your child is old enough to brush and floss independently, make sure that he or she does this at least twice a day.
Promote a Healthy Diet at Home
As with toothbrushing, your child looks to you to set an example with diet. Be sure to offer your child plenty of fruits, vegetables, protein, whole grains, and foods and drinks with calcium as these help keep the teeth and body strong. Try to limit foods and drinks that have a high starch or sugar content since consuming too much of either can lead to tooth decay.
Dental Sealants and Fluoride Supplements
Many pediatric dentists recommend sealants to cover the chewing surface of your child’s back teeth. Dental sealants form an extra barrier against bacteria and decay because they prevent particles of food from becoming lodged in areas that can be difficult to reach with a toothbrush. Your child’s dentist may also recommend extra fluoride. Fortunately, several toothpaste manufacturers already add fluoride so you don’t have to go looking for it.
Although February is the only month dedicated to children’s dental health, we at UPMC Western Maryland encourage parents to remember these tips all year long.
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