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Dental Care for Children

Toddler ToothbrushingMost parents are aware that it is their job to make sure their children brush their teeth every day, but good dental care for children goes beyond a quick swipe with the brush and toothpaste in the morning and before bed. Diet, use of soothers or thumbsucking and regular visits to the dentist are all part of the big picture when it comes to your children’s healthy teeth.

When to Begin Brushing Baby Teeth?

Dentists recommend cleaning baby’s teeth once a day once you can see teeth beginning to emerge, usually around six months of age. At this stage, baby’s gums are likely to be very tender and sore so clean gently using a gauze pad or washcloth. After teeth have fully emerged you can start using a soft baby toothbrush with a smear of baby toothpaste. Cleaning teeth twice a day during infancy will set up good dental care habits, which will be easier to maintain during the willful stages of toddlerhood. Children can brush their own teeth without parental help once they can write their own name.

When Should Children First Visit the Dentist?

According to The Canadian Dental Association, children should begin seeing a dentist six months after the first tooth appears, although many dentists say that anytime between one and three years old is fine, unless you can see visible problems such as brown spots or misaligned teeth. These early visits are a good opportunity to set up positive associations with visits to the dentist, so try to talk about the importance of healthy, strong teeth and the kind dentist who will look at them before and after your visit.

Preventing Tooth Decay in Children

Along with regular toothbrushing and visits to the dentist, watching your child’s diet is a good way to prevent early tooth decay. Avoid offering sugary snacks or juice with every meal, even if it is watered down. Fructose found in fruit juice coats the teeth and feeds the bacteria that lead to tooth decay. Healthy snacks such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains offer good nutrition and help to reduce tooth decay. Also, offer drinks in a cup as part of a meal or snack, but don’t allow your child to spend all day or night sipping on a bottle, juice box or sippy cup filled with anything but water. If milk is part of your bedtime routine, make sure you follow it with toothbrushing to remove the “sugar bugs”.

Pacifiers, Thumb Sucking and Other Dental Concerns

Healthy teeth not only have strong enamel and a lack of decay, but they are also well aligned. Prolonged thumb sucking or pacifier use that continues once all the baby teeth are in can contribute to problems with the alignment of your child’s teeth and language development. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most children do suck on either their fingers or a pacifier but usually stop by the age of six. If thumb sucking or pacifier use continues past this age or your child’s teeth are visibly out of alignment, it’s time to talk to your dentist.

As with most parenting responsibilities, it is easiest to encourage good behavior in your children by being a enthusiastic model yourself. Let them watch you brush and floss your own teeth, and let them have a try doing it themselves before you go in and help them. Start brushing and visiting the dentist early on, keep an eye out for sugar and problems with misaligned teeth and your children will reap the rewards of healthy teeth for the rest of their lives.

Originally published on Suite101 on May 27, 2008

Image credit: makelessnoise on Flickr

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{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Dionna @ Code Name: Mama May 14, 2010, 11:03 am

    I’d never heard that about 6 months after teeth appear – OOPS! I need to get Kieran in, but I’ve been dreading it. Plus, no dental insurance (sigh).
    .-= Dionna @ Code Name: Mama´s last blog ..The Joys of Breastfeeding a Toddler #6 =-.

    • michelle May 14, 2010, 7:54 pm

      No dental insurance is tough for sure. I think one of the big benefits of getting kids in to see the dentist for the first time when they’re still small is helping them get more comfortable with being there. Toddler checkups are basically 5 minutes (if that) of looking in their mouth – the rest of the time is spent describing how the chair works, how the light works, etc. That way, by the time they’re older and need more thorough cleanings they’re used to being there and aren’t frightened of the dentist. A kid-friendly dentist makes a big difference too. Good luck!

  • mommainthefog May 16, 2010, 6:21 pm

    Good reminder to keep up the good fight–and for us, dental health is a daily battle. Any ideas on how to make brushing a toddler’s teeth more of a positive experience? I’ve tried a tooth-brushing song, several different cute toothbrushes and modeling but so far none of this has helped him hate teeth-brushing less!

  • michelle May 17, 2010, 3:30 pm

    Toothbrushing is still a battle sometimes but now, at almost 4, Bea has mostly accepted that we brush teeth morning and night with no exceptions.

    Dionna has lots of good suggestions in her post here: http://codenamemama.com/2010/05/12/gentle-parenting-brushing-teeth/. The only other things I have found that worked for us are playing the “hunting animals” game, where we make animal noises each time we find an animal in her mouth, and using her dad’s extraction site as a demonstration of what will happen when the sugar bugs make holes in a tooth! We’ve also watched videos on YouTube of bacteria multiplying on teeth over the course of 12 hours. This sure reinforced my motivation to be vigilant about toothbrushing! I don’t know if younger toddlers would have the attention span for that though.

    In our house, tooth brushing is non-negotiable, like having your seat belt buckled or bike helmet on. Games and a playful approach work the vast majority of the time, but on particularly willful days I have said, “I need to brush your teeth now. You can either open your mouth yourself or I will open it with my finger so I can brush your teeth.” Not fun for anyone, but I have only had to do it once or twice.

  • Tom May 19, 2010, 1:34 am

    this is the link to the bacteria video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ioq5j6ZMKmo

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