Instilling good oral hygiene habits is imperative to help children learn and avoid complicated dentistry in the long and short term. While good dental habits are critical for everybody, it is especially important in children because not only does it equip children with the knowledge to take care of themselves but it also helps begin the child with a very positive experience when they see the dentist, which can sometimes be a little intimidating.
Dental decay is the most common chronic disease to effecting 20% of children under the age of 11 and 13% of children 12 to 19. Unfortunately, this affects more than their mouth. It can affect children’s learning: dental decay and infections results in 51 million hours of school time lost. It affects socialization and play: self-esteem issues can result if the child is embarrassed of their smile. It affects nutrition and overall health as well: if a child is in pain, they may not have an interest in eating. Dental decay can also cause a lack of sleep, increased risk of asthma, and other chronic conditions related to dental diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. With modern dental treatment, oral hygiene aids, regular trips to the dentist, good eating habits and dental care at home, many of these scenarios can be avoided! Good oral hygiene is one of the most important habits we can instill in our children. Oral hygiene begins as soon as the first tooth is visible in the mouth at infancy and continues for a lifetime.
The Primary Dentition
The roles of the primary dentition, or baby teeth, are very important to the development of the adult dentition. They are placeholders, allow for easier eruption of the adult teeth. Babies will begin teething around 4 to 6 months old, and should have a full primary dentition by the age of 3. Some of our baby teeth are in our mouth until we are around 12 years old. So it is very important we take good care of our baby teeth.
Tips for caring for your baby & tot’s teeth
- Prior to tooth eruption, gently rubbing your infant’s gums with a soft washcloth after feedings is a good idea because it will minimize bacteria in their mouth, it is soothing, especially when they begin to teeth, and it allows them to get used to having someone working in their mouth.
- When the first tooth emerges, you should begin using a fluoridated tooth paste.
- Choose a paste with the ADA seal of Acceptance. A smear, or grain sized amount of toothpaste on the soft toothbrush is more than enough until your toddler can spit. Once your child is able to spit out the remaining toothpaste, you can use a pea-size amount.
- Brush your child’s teeth twice a day, morning and night, for 2 minutes. For our toddlers and kids, who move full speed all day, this can seem like an eternity. Until you are comfortable letting your child brush their teeth on their own, we recommend you help them. Invest in some fun electric toothbrushes with lights and music, or a timer to claim their interest. Electric toothbrushes are an excellent tool because it effectively removes more plaque than manual brushing, particularly in hard to reach places. As children move into orthodontic treatment, an electric brush is an excellent way to keep their mouth and gums healthy.
- Begin flossing as soon as your child has two teeth that touch together. There are flossers on handles that make flossing easy and fun for young kids. We are trying instill good habits at young age!
In addition to diet and dental care, bottles and pacifiers can also play a role in your baby’s mouth. Here are some more tips for addressing bottles and pacifiers:
- Place only formula, milk or breast milk in bottles. Avoid filling the bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks.
- Infants should finish their bedtime and naptime bottles before going to bed.
- If your child uses a pacifier, provide one that is clean—don’t dip it in sugar or honey, or put it in your mouth before giving it to the child.
- Encourage children to drink from a cup by their first birthday and discourage frequent or prolonged use of sippy cups.
- Serve nutritious snacks and limit sweets to mealtimes.