Dental health is a huge part of overall health. Taking care of your children’s dental health will give them a healthy start in life. A child can suffer serious health problems if their dental disease is not taken care of.
Parents can take an active role in caring for their child’s teeth. This includes cleaning their teeth at home, providing a balanced diet and scheduling regular dental visits.
Children learn healthy habits from their parents. This article will describe helpful tips for parents to improve and maintain their child’s dental health from birth to adulthood.
Before the First Tooth Erupts
Children’s dental health should begin early on. It is a good idea to start cleaning your child’s mouth when they are a baby, before the first tooth has even erupted. This allows the child to get used to having their mouth cleaned.
Use a clean wet gauze or washcloth to gently wipe the gum area after each feeding. This will remove any plaque or food particles that may be present.
Never allow your baby to fall asleep with a bottle containing anything other than water. If a bottle contains formula, milk or juice it will allow sugar to come in contact with their mouth all night long.
Even though there are no teeth present yet to come in contact with, it will set them up for the habit of relying on these damaging liquids at nighttime to fall asleep.
Offering a bottle containing sugary liquids as a pacifier is also not recommended. This will allow frequent acid attacks and increase tooth decay once their teeth begin to grow in.
Babies have a higher risk of tooth decay if their newly erupted teeth are allowed to come in contact with sugary liquids for extended periods of time. Bacteria in the mouth will mix with the sugar in these drinks to produce acids. These acids are very detrimental to a baby’s teeth and can cause a condition called “Baby bottle tooth decay”.
Your Child’s First Tooth
Your child’s baby teeth will hold the space in the jaw for the permanent teeth to develop. The baby teeth also help the child to speak normally and will help their chewing function and appearance.
A baby’s 20 primary teeth are already present in their jawbone at birth and will erupt within the first 3 years of their life. Generally, the first tooth will arrive around 6 months. Some babies will erupt their first tooth as early as 4 months and it is not uncommon for the first tooth to grow in closer to a year.
As a child grows, their jaw also grows. This allows room for the full set of 20 primary teeth to erupt over time. The first permanent teeth will start to erupt around age 6. As the permanent teeth develop under the roots of the primary teeth, the roots begin to resorb allowing for the shedding of the primary teeth.
By age 12-13 years, your child will have the majority of their permanent teeth fully erupted.
- Central incisor erupt 6-12 months and shed 6-7 yrs
- Lateral incisor erupt 9-16 months and shed 7-8 yrs
- Canine erupt 16-23 months and shed 9-12 yrs
- First molar erupt 13-19 months and shed 9-11 yrs
- Second molar erupt 23-33 months and shed 10-12 yrs
- Central incisor erupt 6-8 yrs
- Lateral incisor erupt 7-9 yrs
- Canine erupt 9-12 yrs
- First premolar erupt 10-12 yrs
- Second premolar erupt 10-12 yrs
- First molar erupt 6-7 yrs
- Second molar erupt 11-13 yrs
- Third molar (wisdom tooth) erupt 17-21 yrs
Cleaning Your Child’s Teeth
When your child’s first teeth start to erupt, it important to start brushing them. You can use a child-sized toothbrush and water. It is easier to accomplish this if you are sitting on a bed or couch with your child lying down and their head on a pillow that is on your lap.
Once your child is age 2, the ADA recommends using a small pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste on their brush. Fluoride toothpaste is not suggested earlier than age 2 due to the risk of swallowing it. Before age 2, children do not know how to spit out the toothpaste and too much ingested fluoride may cause a condition of permanent brown spots on the permanent teeth called fluorosis.
Continue to help your child brush their teeth until age 6. A good rule of thumb is to allow your child to brush for the first minute by themselves. After one minute you can help them brush, making sure to reach the back teeth and the grooves in the molars where food and decay causing bacteria like to hide.
Check your child’s toothbrush often for bristles that are frayed or worn. Damaged bristles will not effectively remove plaque and food debris.
You can start to use dental floss when the adjacent teeth begin to touch. Children do not have the dexterity to floss using string floss on their own until age 8, so it is important to help them. You can floss for them or allow them to use a flossing tool with a handle that allows access to the back teeth.
Using an oral irrigator instead of floss is much more effective at removing plaque for children and adults. Using an oral irrigator will remove twice as much bacterial plaque than traditional string floss. Learn more about oral irrigators versus flossing.
It is recommended to brush twice daily, morning and night and floss once per day. Nighttime is the very most important time to brush your child’s teeth. At night, the mouth is moist, warm and dark and is the perfect breeding ground for decay causing bacteria.
Using an electric toothbrush will allow your child to have 30,000 brush strokes per minute compared to only 500 brush strokes per minute when using a manual toothbrush. Products combining an electric toothbrush with an oral irrigator will provide superior plaque removal. These products are by far the most effective plaque removal tools known to date and will greatly improve your child’s oral health.
No spill cups or sippy cups should also not be encouraged as soon as the child is able to use an open cup. This will prevent sugary milk or juices from coming in contact with your child’s enamel for extended periods of time.
What’s the Proper Technique?
Here are some more helpful tips for parents when caring for their children’s dental health. When brushing, you will want to place a soft bristled toothbrush against the gumline at a 45 degree angle towards the gum. If your child is under two, remember not to use fluoridated toothpaste.
A pea sized amount of toothpaste is all that is needed. Gently move the brush back and forth in short tooth-wide strokes.
Brush the outer surfaces of each tooth, upper and lower. Repeat this method for the insides of all the teeth. Finally, be sure to brush the chewing surfaces of the back teeth as this is where most plaque and bacteria will be hiding.
Don’t forget to brush the top surface of the tongue as this is another place bacteria like to hide.
Using a tool called a tongue cleaner will effectively remove bacteria from the surface of your child’s tongue. This will greatly improve any issues with bad breath as these bacteria give off a smelly by product called volatile sulfur compounds. Learn more about treating bad breath here.
When flossing, use about a foot and a half of floss. This seems like a lot but using this amount will make it easier to maneuver and properly hang on to the floss.
Wind each end of the floss around the middle fingers to allow a good grip. Use a gentle back and forth see-saw motion to guide the floss between the teeth until resistance is felt by the gums. Using a curving C-shape, gently wrap the floss around both sides of the teeth and use a scraping motion to clean food or plaque from in between the teeth.
Repeat these steps in between each of the teeth. Remember also to floss the backs of the furthest back teeth on top and bottom.
Your Child’s First Dental Visit
When your child’s first tooth develops, it is time to schedule their first dental visit. Ideally, the first visit should be around their first birthday. You should treat this visit as you would treat your baby’s well child visit with their pediatrician.
During your child’s first visit, the dentist will accomplish several things. A complete oral exam will be done to check development and growth, access oral health and check for cavities or other problems.
Your child’s teeth will be cleaned and tips provided to maintain or improve oral hygiene. The dentist will discuss teething, finger or thumb sucking habits and pacifier use.
It will be determined whether your child is receiving enough fluoride to prevent cavities and whether your child is at risk for developing cavities.
Having the first dental check up at an early age will establish your child’s “dental home”. This is a place you can take your child for continued care year after year to maintain your children’s dental health.
An early visit helps the dentist get to know your child and their specific needs so they can provide the best care for them. It is best to meet the dentist when your child is having no problems-don’t wait until they are having an issue. This will ensure the most pleasant visit and a good experience for your child.
What About Sucking Habits?
Sucking is a natural reflex. Babies and young children many suck on pacifiers, fingers or thumbs to help them feel happy, safe and provide a sense of security. Many infants rely on sucking habits to induce sleep, as sucking is relaxing.
Sometimes a child’s sucking habits may interfere with proper alignment of the teeth or proper growth of the mouth. The habit’s duration, intensity and frequency will determine if dental problems will result.
Usually by age 2 to 4, a child will stop these habits on their own. If your child continues these sucking habits beyond age 4, it is a good idea to discuss this with your child’s dentist to see if there are any growth or developmental concerns.
You can help wean your child of these habits. Praise your child for not sucking instead of scolding them. Positive reinforcement is the most encouraging way to wean them of their habit.
A child will often suck on their fingers, thumb or pacifier when seeking comfort. Try to focus on eliminating the cause of anxiety and comfort your child. Children who are sucking for comfort will feel less of a need when they receive reassurance from their parents.
Placing a bandage or sock over your child’s finger or thumb will help to remind and encourage them to stop these behaviors. This practice is best done at night.
Diet is Important Too!
Children’s dental health includes a well balanced diet. A good diet is essential for your child’s growth and development and their healthy teeth will depend on it.
What and how often we eat directly affect our teeth. Our teeth are constantly forming bacterial plaque. When the sugar your child consumes mixes with the plaque, it produces cavity causing acids.
When your child is allowed to snack often, this encourages more opportunity for acid attacks which puts them at a higher risk for tooth decay. Other factors that may influence decay are the amounts and type of bacteria in the mouth.
Help your child to develop good eating habits. Limiting between meal snacks that are sugary and sticky like cookies, fruit snacks or candy is best. These snacks encourage decay.
Instead, offer snacks that are good for your children’s dental health. These snacks include raw vegetables, fruits, cheese and nuts. Nuts and cheese contain enzymes that discourage plaque from forming cavities. Fruit and vegetables are self cleansing foods as the chewing of these foods reduce bacterial plaque.
The mouth makes more saliva at mealtime to help rinse away food particles so it is best to save sugary snacks to be included with meals.
What about fluoride?
Research has shown that fluoride prevents cavities and helps repair and remineralize early stages of tooth decay. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral in all water sources. Some water sources such as city water have added fluoride.
For children, fluoride strengthens the enamel and makes it more resistant to decay. It will help to reverse the cavity process for teeth with beginning decay areas.
There are two ways your child can obtain fluoride: systemic or topical. Fluoride obtained systemically are all forms of fluoride that are ingested. This would include water fluoridation or supplements. Topical fluoride is obtained when applied to the outer surface of the enamel. Examples of topical fluoride would be in the form of toothpastes, mouth rinse or the varnish applied topically at the dental office.
Community water fluoridation is an extremely effective way to achieve both topical and systemic fluoride. Sometimes parents give their children bottled water instead of tap water. Some bottled waters contain fluoride but most do not. Take this fact into consideration by supplying additional forms of fluoride if you are only giving your child bottled water.
It is a good idea to check with your child’s dentist before giving them supplemental fluoride. Some children may or may not require additional fluoride if they are at low risk for developing tooth decay.
Happiness is a Healthy Smile…
Parents need to participate in caring for their child’s teeth. It is important that parents teach their children how to take care of their teeth and practice healthy habits that will continue into adulthood.
Now you know how to help your child practice good oral hygiene habits. Your children’s dental health will depend on these tips for parents. You can start them off right with a balanced, healthy diet and teach them the importance of regular dental care.
You can set a good example for your children by also brushing twice daily, flossing daily and visiting your dentist regularly.
By following the tips in this article, you can help your child have a healthy smile for life!
I invite you to take an active role in your children’s dental health. Please leave any questions or comments below and I will be happy to help.