Monitoring Your Child’s Oral Health
Baby and child care books tell you about everything—feeding schedules, sleeping habits, cognitive development—but we’ve yet to see a baby book that devotes more than a page to children’s oral health! This makes it easy for a new parent to think “my child is too young to need a dentist yet; I’ll worry about that when he has all his teeth!”
The truth is that tooth decay can develop and spread more quickly in baby teeth than you might expect. Oral hygiene is as important for infants and kids as it is for adults. Children’s enamel is thinner than that of adult teeth, and a cavity at a young age can be the start of long-term oral health problems. Bringing your child to a children’s dentist early and regularly can lay the foundation for a lifetime of good oral health.
When to Start Brushing the Teeth
As soon as your child cuts teeth, you should be thinking about oral hygiene. Baby teeth should be cleaned daily with a small wad of gauze or a clean wet cloth, to remove any plaque that develops. You don’t have to buy a baby toothbrush to do this, but many infant brushes also function as a gum massager, which can sooth aching gums when children are teething. As infants turn to toddlers, an age appropriate brush and toothpaste (without fluoride) can help build good habits and teach the importance of oral hygiene.
One of the most critical steps in preventing early tooth decay is to never put your baby to bed with a bottle of milk. A feeding before bedtime is certainly okay, as long as some time elapses before sleep (even 15-20 minutes is adequate). Routinely giving your child a full bottle at bedtime, however, can lead to baby bottle tooth decay. When a child falls asleep with milk in the mouth, or continues sipping milk through the night, this feeds the mouth bacteria that cause cavities. Letting some time elapse between a feeding and sleep allows the mouth time to create saliva to rinse away the milk. If your child prefers to have something in his mouth at bedtime, a pacifier or bottle of water is a much healthier option.
As your toddler becomes a preschooler, make sure he or she brushes twice a day. You can start using a fluoride toothpaste as soon as they are old enough to understand that they should not swallow it, but only use a small amount.
When to Go to the Dentist
It’s recommended that you bring your child to the dentist for his first routine appointment somewhere around the third birthday. During this visit, we take great care to make your child feel comfortable and use it as an opportunity to begin teaching him/her the importance of good oral hygiene. You don’t have to find a specialty children’s dentist, as a family dentist is trained in providing excellent care for patients of every age.
At the first visit, we will take a look at the teeth to monitor their development, check for signs of decay, and give a gentle cleaning. Early visits are helpful for two reasons: they prevent the onset of cavities, of course, but they also help your child view dental visits as a positive event, and nothing to be frightened of. Skip the early dental visits, and a child’s first dental visit may involve a cavity and filling. This can be a frightening experience and may lead to dental anxiety and shame.
Oral Hygiene and Big Kids
It’s important to teach your children the correct way to brush their teeth, but it’s also beneficial to monitor them. Especially as little kids turn into big kids, parents should make it a part of their routine to periodically watch, discuss, and model their kids’ brushing and flossing habits. If your child feels like he’s too old to have you watch him brush every night, make a weekly date to brush your teeth together, so he can watch your technique.
Even older children can benefit from a parent taking the brush in hand and brushing their teeth for them every now and then. This gives you opportunity to inspect the teeth. Look for any discolored spots that may indicate tartar formation or cavities. If you see a dark spot that doesn’t brush away, this could be a cavity, and you should make an appointment ASAP!
Teaching Kids the Right Way to Brush and Floss
- Use a fluoride containing toothpaste as soon as your child is old enough to reliably spit it out, rather than swallow it.
- Use a soft-bristled brush of an appropriate size. Adult sized brushes are not good for small mouths and can lead to inadequate teeth cleaning.
- Brush every surface of the teeth, using a combination of strokes: up-and-down, side-to-side, and small circles. Don’t forger to brush at the gum line, to intentionally clean the small space where the teeth and gums meet.
- Gently brush the gums, tongue, and other surfaces of the inside of the mouth, to remove as much food residue and bacteria as possible.
- Brush for two minutes each time, twice a day. Floss once per day.
- Any way that you can make brushing fun and pleasant for kids is a win-win. Letting children pick out their own toothpaste and toothbrush can help them take ownership of their oral health and inspire a sense of responsibility.
- Use floss to gently clean between the teeth, going up and down a few times at each space. Include a gentle C-curve at the gum line to remove food and bacteria from the space where the teeth meet the gums. (Loose floss can sometimes be difficult for children to handle, as their fine motor skills are still developing. There are many types of flossing picks that can help your child floss his or her teeth more easily, so experiment until you find one that works for you.)
- If you choose to have your children use a fluoride-containing rinse made for kids, be sure to follow the instructions on the label. Do not let them eat or drink for 30 minutes after rinsing, in order to get the full protective/strengthening benefits of the fluoride.
Do you need a children’s dentist? At Desert Family Dental, Dr. Scott Lee provides dental care for the whole family. With routine six-month visits, we can help ensure your children’s teeth stay strong and healthy. Call us at 480-838-4185 for an appointment at our Mesa, AZ dental office.