In honor of National Children’s Dental Health month, let’s look at the top tips to keep your little ones mouth in check!
WHEN SHOULD I TAKE MY BABY/CHILD TO THE DENTIST?
Ideally, when there are signs of the first tooth, a little one should see the dentist. These early appointments will be mainly to discuss your child’s development, address any concerns from your end, and to highlight any behaviors that could be contributing to early childhood tooth decay (like constant snacking, etc).
It is best to start “brushing” on the early side to help desensitize the child’s mouth (can we talk about fighting while mom or dad is trying to brush their teeth?!). No need to use toothpaste when they are itty bitty, but a rice size amount of fluoride free toothpaste can be used to encourage brushing cooperation as they age. Once your child can master spitting (typically past the age of 3), a fluoridated toothpaste can be introduced (a pea size amount this time). Brushing twice a day is optimum, especially at night!
BREAK THE SUGARY DRINK HABIT
The American Association of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association both endorse policies to limit children’s consumption of sugary beverages. The American Dental Association support these policies, too, but it is important to see that this issue goes beyond the health of your child’s teeth. The best way to break a sugary drink habit is to never start it in the first place. If your child/children is already in the throws of the sugary beverage world, do not fret. The best way to scale back is to do so gradually.
Almost every drink out there that is not water is either sugary or very acidic. All these drinks attack our teeth, no matter what age we are. If you are wanting to rid your children and family of all those sugary beverages, have a discussion with your dentist on how best to do that! I can say one of the ideas I give my patients are to limit the sugary drinks to mealtimes, so they are not being sipped on all day. I also highly recommend encouraging water consumption all throughout the day. Lastly, keeping the sugary beverages out of the home will drastically cut down the sugar consumption, due to lack of access.
MY KIDS DO NOT DRINK SUGARY DRINKS, BUT STILL GET LOTS OF CAVITIES
The bacteria that causes cavities does not discriminate. I give sugary drinks a hard time because we usually swish liquids around in our mouth and that sugar gets everywhere. Some of the less obvious culprits that cause cavities, though, are snacks in general, especially popular kids snacks—like goldfish! The most ethereal child’s snack! Really any carb likes to hide in all those grooves on teeth. Fruit snacks are another sneaky (and sticky!) food that kids love munching on.
Some ideas for snacks that not only don’t cause cavities, but actually help FIGHT getting cavities are: apples, cheese, celery, carrots (really any crunchy, raw vegetable). Most kids will get very excited about the next recommendation—chewing gum! As long as it is sugar free, gum helps increase saliva, which washes away bad bacteria. And, if you chew a gum with a special sweetener called “xylitol” in it, it can actually fight that bacteria.
At school, I recommend to rinse with water between snacks and meals. Get your kiddos in the habit of this! It’s a great way to cleanse the mouth without having to bring a toothbrush to school.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
Talking about teeth is not the most exciting for most people, but I’m here to break that barrier! If the profession of dentistry can help break a habit when a patient is young, and they can grow to have a healthy mouth for the rest of their life, then we have done our job well! Start them young with good habits. If they are older and bad habits are already there, find a great dentist that works on this with you and your child.