Tooth decay is the number one chronic childhood illness in America with 40% of children having dental cavities by the time they reach kindergarten. And yet tooth decay is easily preventable with good oral hygiene and a healthy diet. So, how are these positive practices best adopted in childhood? The answer lies with you. Your job as a parent is not just carer but also role model: by setting an example for your child and establishing daily routines together you will help lay the foundations for lifelong healthy teeth.
It’s never too early to start
It’s good practice to regularly clean your baby’s gums even before their first teeth appear. Wiping them with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth at bath time will help to keep their mouth free from bacteria, which will be important when teeth emerge, and will also encourage the start of an oral hygiene routine.
Clean as a team
Once those pearly whites start to appear, you need to instigate teeth cleaning twice daily. It’s a good idea for your child to see you caring for your own teeth by having a designated time for you to clean teeth together. This takes the focus off the child, as not all children enjoy the act of cleaning teeth. Begin by using a small, soft toothbrush with non-fluoride toothpaste until the age of two years, unless your dentist recommends it. Fluoride is key for fighting cavities but can lead to fluorosis if young children swallow too much. It’s therefore important to wait until the recommended age and then only use a small pea-sized amount of toothpaste. You should lead and supervise teeth cleaning until the age of six years at which point your child should have adopted a proper brushing technique.
Family trips to the dentist
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children should pay their first visit to a dentist soon after the first tooth appears, and no later than the first birthday. A child who is taken for dental visits early in life is more likely to have a good attitude towards attending oral health appointments. It’s also a good idea to make your visits together as a family so that your child can see that you all require regular check-ups. Choose a local dental practice that welcomes children, that is appreciative of tentative first-timers and offers sealant services and fluoride treatments. Not only will your dentist check for cavities and other problems, but they can also advise you on how to clean your child’s teeth properly and how to handle habits like thumb sucking.
Try to avoid sugary foods in your child’s diet that will linger on their teeth, such as candies, cookies, and sugar-sweetened drinks. If you do give them to your child, serve them with meals rather than as a snack since the increased amount of saliva in the mouth will help to wash food from the teeth. At snack time offer cheese or fruit and vegetables, especially those with high water content, such as cucumber, pear, and celery. Check your whole family’s sugar intake and ensure you all follow these healthy eating habits.
One of the best ways to care for your child’s teeth is to care for your own. It’s inevitable that they learn from what they see and will want to follow your lead. By establishing family teeth cleaning times, visiting the dentist together and eating tooth-friendly foods, you can help to secure a healthy future for your child’s teeth.