Dental Hygiene: How to Care for Your Child’s Teeth
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Healthy teeth are important to your child’s overall health. They help your child eat and talk. Strong oral care helps set good dental habits as your child grows. Poor oral care can lead to infection, disease, or other teeth problems.
Help make dental hygiene fun with these tips:
- Let children help choose their own toothbrush. They can pick one that has a favorite color or character.
- Let children help choose toothpaste. They can pick their favorite flavor.
- Read books or watch videos that talk about dental hygiene.
- Use a timer to make sure kids brush their teeth for 2 minutes. Or play their favorite song to help keep track of time.
- Reward children for good oral care. Do not give them food or sugary treats. Offer something healthy or simple instead, like apple slices or a gold star.
- Plan a fun activity following your child’s dentist visit
Path to improved health
The role of fluoride
Fluoride is important to your child’s dental health. It is known to reduce cavities in baby (primary) teeth and adult (permanent) teeth. It also helps make teeth strong by hardening the tooth enamel. Most children get fluoride in drinking water. Many cities are required to add fluoride to tap water.
If you live in an area where the tap water doesn’t contain fluoride, your healthcare provider may prescribe daily fluoride tablets. Once your child starts going to the dentist, they will get a fluoride varnish or cleaning on their teeth.
Too much fluoride can cause tooth stains and be harmful to your child’s health. Be sure your child does not swallow fluoride toothpaste or mouthwash. Follow all instructions for fluoride supplements.
Brushing and flossing
Dental hygiene should begin when your child is a baby. Before the teeth come in, gently wipe your child’s gums, starting at the back of the mouth and working toward the front, rubbing them and taking away any leftover milk or formula. Start using a soft child-size toothbrush when your child’s teeth come in. Find out from your child’s dentist if you should use a toothpaste with fluoride. Only use a small amount. Teach your child to spread it among their teeth, gums, and tongue. Have your healthcare provider or dentist show you the right way to brush your child’s teeth.
Your child likely will need help brushing their teeth until they are 7 or 8 years old. Around this time, they can start using a larger sized toothbrush. You should switch out toothbrushes every 3 to 6 months or when the bristles look worn. Children should brush their teeth for 2 minutes. Flossing is another key part of your child’s oral care routine. Teach your child to floss at least once a day. You can buy floss that comes on a handle to make it easier.
You should also teach your child to brush their tongue. This helps reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth.
Be sure that your child knows to brush their teeth before bed, after all eating and drinking (except water) is done.
Cavities are holes that are Form in your teeth. Sugar in food and drinks turn into acid, which can eat away at your teeth. Cavities are common in children because their teeth can be harder to brush. Everyone in your family should take good care of their teeth. People who have cavities can pass the cavity-causing bacteria to unborn babies, infants, and children.
Your child may be at risk for cavities if they:
- Have white spots or brown areas on their teeth.
- Have ongoing special health care needs.
- Do not go to the dentist often.
- Were born early (premature) or had a low birth weight.
Kids who eat a lot of sugary foods and drinks also are at high risk for cavities. It is important to make healthy food choices. Avoid too much sugar. Do not let your child have a lot of soda, fruit juice, or sweetened drinks. Limit sweet snacks and drinks between meals. If your child does have sugar, make sure they brush their teeth afterward.
- Chewing gum is safe for older kids. It can provide benefits, such as:
- Strengthening the jaw.
- Helping produce saliva.
- Washing away bits of food.
- Balancing acid that can cause tooth decay.
- Freshening breath.
However, gum that contains sugar can cause cavities. Limit the amount of sugar gum your child chews or only give them sugar-free gum.
Safety is another big part of dental hygiene. If your child plays sports, they should wear a mouth guard. This is a soft, plastic retainer that covers the teeth and sometimes the lips. It helps protect your child’s mouth from injuries. Talk to your dentist if you need a custom-fit mouth guard.
From baby teeth to adult teeth
In general, baby teeth start to appear between 4 and 7 months old. The first teeth to come in are usually the 2 bottom front teeth. Most kids have all 20 baby teeth by about 3 years of age.
Children can lose their baby teeth as early as 6 years old and as late as 12 years old. During this process, your child has a mix of teeth as baby ones fall out and adult ones break through. Around this time, your dentist may talk to you and your child about possible teeth problems. Some kids need orthodontia treatment, such as braces. A full set of adult teeth is 32 teeth. This includes wisdom teeth, which most people do not get until their late teens or early adulthood.
Things to consider
It’s normal for children to suck their thumbs, their fingers, or a pacifier. Most children give up this habit on their own by age 4, with no harm done to their teeth. If your child still has a sucking habit after age 4, tell your dentist. Your dentist can watch carefully for any problems as the teeth develop. In most children there is no reason to worry about a sucking habit until around age 5, when the permanent front teeth come in.
When to see a dentist
The Canadian Dental Association recommends that parents take their child to a dentist within 6 months of the eruption of the first tooth or by one year of age. This gives the dentist a chance to look for early problems with your child’s teeth. Pediatric dentists specialize in treating children’s dental health. The dentist will talk to you about proper oral care.
Visiting the dentist from a young age will help your child become comfortable with their dentist. It also establishes the good habit of regular dental check-ups. Everyone should see the dentist twice a year.