The oral hygiene habits established in childhood last a lifetime. Kids who learn that going to the dentist is a positive experience and take pride in caring for their teeth have healthier smiles as adults, so it’s important to get started now. Here’s how to help your child understand the value of dental health.
Start Seeing the Dentist Early
Many parents are under the impression that they don’t need to start bringing their child to the dentist until they’re around preschool age. This used to be the standard, but now we understand that it’s best for children to start seeing the dentist within six months of the eruption of their first tooth or when they reach one year of age, whichever comes first.
First dental exams start at such a young age because they help us identify any potential problems with a child’s teeth as they are erupting and forming in the jaw. Even more important, these visits help us establish a relationship of trust with you and your child.
With each appointment, your child will become more and more comfortable with our team and begin to have positive associations with dental care. Many young patients fear going to the dentist simply because they don’t know what to expect!
Teach Good Oral Hygiene Habits
Kids need to be helped with brushing because if left to do it by themselves, most will do a quick swipe of the toothbrush on the fronts of the teeth—not anywhere close to the required two minutes of brushing and barely even two seconds!
When your child is a toddler, do the brushing for them. Preschoolers can share brushing duties with mom and dad; let them get started and then take over for them, making sure to brush the backs of the teeth and any hard-to-reach spots. A few years after this, you can hand over brushing duty to your little one, but be sure to supervise. A timer set for two minutes will help or try an electric toothbrush with a built-in timer.
Flossing with string is difficult for tiny hands, but many children have enough space between their teeth that they can use dental floss picks fairly easily. Start flossing when teeth touch, typically around 3-4 years. Back teeth touch first and using floss on a handle helps a lot. Supervise them and help if needed.
Help Them Eat Healthy
Eating for dental health means limiting sugary foods, making soda and juice off-limits or a rare treat, and serving meals full of fresh produce, hearty whole grains, and lean proteins. The bacteria that cause cavities feed on sugar and it releases acid that wears away tooth enamel, setting up the perfect environment for cavities to form.
Treats and sweets are part of the fun of being a kid, but it’s important not to overdo it. When children do have candy, cakes, or other treats, make sure they brush their teeth afterwards. If they’re at a restaurant or someone else’s house, rinsing with water is better than nothing. It’s important that sugary food particles aren’t left on the teeth for an extended amount of time after enjoying a treat.