Every February, we take time to observe National Children’s Dental Health Month. Dental health is important to each and every one of us, but it’s especially critical for children. If children can create strong, effective oral care habits from a young age, they are far less likely to suffer the pain of tooth loss and decay as adults.
The journey to great dental health begins at home, so let’s take a closer look at the five most important lessons parents can learn during National Children’s Dental Health Month
Supervise Brushing Until Age 6
The early years of life are all about learning new habits and skills. Until your child turns six or seven, he’s still learning to ride a two-wheel bike, tie his shoes, read chapter books, and many other milestones. Remember that brushing is also a milestone! Your child learns by example and relies on your supervision to adopt proper brushing techniques.
It is never too early to begin brushing. Even before your baby has teeth, use a baby toothbrush to gently brush his gums. As soon as teeth appear, be sure to brush twice a day. It’s generally recommended to use water until age two and then switch to a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride is recommended by dentists as an essential way to prevent cavities and protect teeth from decay. Begin with a small, pea-sized amount and increase as your child learns to spit her toothpaste instead of swallowing it.
If you’re struggling to keep your older child engaged in his morning and evening brushing routine, try using a fun toothbrush that plays songs or create a reward chart that offers small prizes for consistent brushing behavior.
You also can’t neglect flossing, which is necessary to remove plaque from between the teeth. Set these brushing expectations from an early age and continue to monitor your child’s brushing through the toddler years to make sure he brushes thoroughly.
Choose Drinks Wisely
Oral hygiene isn’t just about brushing and flossing; it’s also about the foods and drinks that your child’s teeth are exposed to. Never put your child down to sleep with a bottle of juice, formula, or milk. This allows sugary liquids to cling to his teeth and accelerate the process of decay. It’s even helpful to cut back on juice and other sugary drinks during the day. It is best to limit juice to mealtimes so that food and saliva can wash it away.
Children love juice, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for them. Juice is one of the biggest culprits of excessive sugar exposure on the teeth. Even “healthy” juices like apple juice and orange juice are loaded with sugar that eats away at healthy tooth enamel.
You can minimize this damage by reducing the amount of juice your child drinks. Water is the very best choice since it clears the mouth of sugar, keeps your child hydrated, and improves body functions. Milk is another great option since it’s rich in protein and nutrients- just make sure to brush away milk’s natural sugars afterward!
Watch Out for Sweets
It’s often easier for children to reach for high-sugar sweets in the pantry than healthy options in the fridge. The more your young child snacks on sweets, the more his teeth are exposed to harmful sugar and bacteria. You also can’t forget that a diet high in carbohydrates, sugars, and trans-fats compromises your child’s physical wellbeing from an early age.
This is easy to solve by swapping sweets and junk food for nutritious smile-friendly choices:
- Crunchy foods that contain extra water are excellent for your child’s teeth. The chewing required for foods like apples, carrots, cucumbers, and celery stimulates the production of saliva, which neutralizes cavity-causing bacteria. This means that chewing crunchy foods can counteract dangerous bacteria and keep your child’s teeth safe from decay.
- Vitamin-rich foods are important for many reasons! Vitamin C keeps the gums healthy by reducing inflammation, strengthening blood vessels, and preventing your gums from becoming sensitive. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Bell peppers, oranges, broccoli, strawberries, fish, and eggs are all excellent sources of these vitamins.
- Calcium and phosphorus are the core building blocks of enamel, the white protective layer that keeps your child’s teeth strong and healthy. Eating foods rich in calcium and phosphorous, like yogurt, cheese, milk, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and lean red meat replaces minerals and keeps your child’s teeth strong.
Visit the Dentist Regularly
Twice a year, every year! Your child should begin visiting the dentist by the age of 1 and continue every six months. Visiting the dentist is the only way to routinely assess your child’s dental health, identify problems, thoroughly clean the teeth, and prevent future issues.
By setting these good examples for your toddler and establishing a clear and consistent oral care routine, your child can reap the benefits of a long life with a full smile. It only takes a few simple steps to save your child from the terrible pain and embarrassment of chronic dental issues.
At Arvada Dental Center in Arvada, CO, Dr. Bennett, Dr. Arnold, and Dr. Woody are dedicated to giving their patients- children and adults alike!- the highest quality of dental care possible. Schedule an appointment for your child today to make the most of National Children’s Dental Health Month.