Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease. Therefore, parents have a strong responsibility to establish good oral health habits in their children. Believe it or not, you can never start too early in practicing preventative dental care. There are important oral health care steps to take beginning as early as the newborn months. Here are some helpful tips and tools for maintaining your child’s healthy smile through the early stages of development.
- Oral Care Stage 1 (4-24 months)
- Before you are even concerned about your baby having teeth, there are habits you should establish for optimal health. Parents can begin by regularly cleaning their newborn baby’s gums with a damp washcloth after all feedings (breast or bottle). This prevents plaque buildup, a soft, sticky bacteria containing deposits that accumulate on teeth and cause tooth decay. When your child’s first tooth does emerge, you can begin using a soft toothbrush and pea-size dab of non-fluoridated toothpaste. It is recommended that you take your child to their first dental appointment by their first birthday.
- Oral Care Stage 2 (2-4 years)
- Now is the time to start using fluoridated toothpaste when brushing your child’s teeth, both to prevent decay and promote healthy development. It is important that parents continue to supervise their child’s brushing habits. For this age group, brushing technique should focus especially the chewing teeth, or the back teeth that are most vulnerable to cavities. Make strong efforts to educate your child on the importance of brushing for the recommended 2 minutes, 2 times a day. Parents can set a good example by brushing alongside their child or even singing their favorite song until a full two minutes has passed. There are also some excellent Tooth Timer Apps that you can download to help your child become accustomed to the full 2 minute timeframe of brushing. This is also the age that parents need to educate their child on proper nutrition for healthy teeth. Limit sugary drinks and foods and offer healthy snacks. In addition, it is best to get rid of the bottle and sippy cup at this stage.
- Oral Care Tips Stage 3 (5+ years)
- By the time children enter elementary school, they are starting to get their permanent teeth or molars, so it’s important to use fluoridated toothpaste. Children eight and older should use a toothbrush that is designed for a complex mixture of different-sized permanent and baby teeth. When it comes to flossing at this age, the general rule of thumb is to only allow your child to floss independently if they can tie their own shoe by themselves. In addition, parents should stress to older children the impact of candy and sugary drinks, even sports drinks, on their teeth as they become more active and independent.
Group Health Dental is proud to offer preventative dental care to children of all ages. Parents should know that helping kids establish good oral health habits at a very early age will significantly help them maintain a healthy smile through teen and adult years.