When it comes to dental health, it pays to build good habits early. In honor of Children’s Dental Health Month, here are five simple things you can do now to help ensure your child has a healthy smile for years to come.
Brush Up on Hygiene
Children should brush and floss twice a day. Use a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste and a soft bristle toothbrush. Supervise brushing until your child can be counted on to spit, and not swallow, toothpaste. This is usually not before he or she is 6 or 7.
When teaching a child to brush, place the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle. Start along the gum line, and brush in a gentle circular motion. Brush the outer surfaces of each tooth, upper and lower. Repeat on all inside surfaces and chewing surfaces. Finish by brushing the tongue to help freshen breath and remove bacteria. And don’t forget to floss — especially in areas where teeth are touching.
Reach for the Right Snacks
Candy, fruit snacks, soda and cookies won’t do your child any favors when it comes to preventing cavities. But there are also plenty of “healthy” snacks that can be just as problematic. Dried fruit (like raisins), chips, crackers (like Goldfish), pretzels and dried cereals are all high in starches and sugars, which stick to teeth and can cause decay. Opt for cheese, fruits and vegetables instead.
Skip the Sugary Drinks
Sugars in drinks such as juice, sports drinks and milk, mix with bacteria in dental plaque, forming acids that attack tooth enamel for up to 20 minutes after the drink is consumed. Unlike aluminum cans, re-sealable bottles allow your child to sip on these drinks throughout the day, resulting in a high acid level in the mouth and a steady stream of sugar for bacteria to feast on. It’s a recipe for long-term decay along the gum line and between teeth – areas frequently missed when brushing.
Limit these drinks to mealtimes, rather than allowing your child to sip on them for hours. When finished, have your child chew sugarless gum with xylitol, or rinse with plain water, to help neutralize acid levels and keep bacteria in check.
Don’t Discount Baby Teeth
A child’s primary teeth (often called “baby teeth”) are vital to proper jaw development. If your child prematurely loses a baby tooth, it’s important to see a dentist right away. Your child may require a space maintainer to hold the natural tooth space open. Without a space maintainer, existing teeth can tilt toward the empty space, and permanent teeth can come in crooked or become impacted.
Dental sealants have long been recognized as an effective way to help prevent cavities in children. Sealant placement in children and adolescents has shown an 86% reduction in cavities after one year and a 58% decrease after four years.
Sealants fill in the grooved and pitted surfaces of back teeth and prevent food particles from getting caught in these deep grooves, thus preventing cavities. Typically, children should get sealants between the ages of 6 and 14. (Keep in mind, sealants are meant to help prevent cavities. They do not eliminate the possibility of getting cavities, so your child still needs to brush and floss regularly.)