You’ve probably heard that it’s easier to stick with healthy habits if we learn them early in life. That’s absolutely true—and it’s definitely the case when it comes to kids and dental health. Are you setting your kids up for success?
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. While you might not often think of your kids’ dental health as part of their overall health, oral health plays a key role in health and wellness.
In fact, did you know that “caries,” most commonly called cavities, is actually one of the most diagnosed medical conditions among kids? Beyond that fact, research has shown that the health of our teeth, gums, and mouth connects with our general health, including our heart health.
That’s why it is so important to begin teaching your kids good dental health habits early in life. Read on as we suggest three key lessons to share with your children and to model for them:
Dental Health Habit No. 1: Brush Those Teeth
Our teeth are at risk of decay from the moment they first sprout. That means that those baby teeth that work so hard to push through the gums—and cause countless hours of angst for babies and parents alike—need to be taken care of from day one.
You should actually begin cleaning the mouth before teeth even sprout. Use a clean, moist cloth to wipe your baby’s gums beginning in the first few days of life.
Once your baby’s teeth begin coming in, you should begin brushing them. Use a tiny dab of fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice to thoroughly brush teeth twice daily. Until age 3, you should help your child brush his or her teeth and make sure toothpaste is spit out rather than swallowed.
Take the opportunity in those early years to demonstrate for your child how to brush, both by brushing his or her teeth and by brushing your own as an example.
Starting at age 3, your child can begin to brush using a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. It’s still important during this time to remind your child not to swallow the toothpaste.
Dental Health Habit No. 2: Limit Sugar Intake
The longer and more often a child’s teeth are exposed to sugar, the higher his or her risk of cavities developing. A sweet tooth is often developed in childhood—and it can be difficult to break as we get older.
Begin promoting good dental health and overall health in your child at a young age by ensuring you’re offering a selection of healthy foods. Limit your child’s intake of added sugars whenever possible and choose naturally sweet items such as fruit instead.
But speaking of fruit, you’ll want to steer clear of fruit juice. In most cases, juice contains a large amount of unnecessary sugar, so it’s better to get fruit from whole and cut-up fruit instead.
Fill your child’s plate with plenty of fruits and veggies and make water and milk readily available to drink. If you do serve your child a sugary beverage at any point, use a straw and not a sippy cup, since sugar-containing liquid sipped through a sippy cup is a known contributor to cavities.
Dental Health Habit No. 3: Start Dental Checkups
How soon should your child see a dentist? Maybe earlier than you think! The American Dental Association recommends taking a child to the dentist after his or her first tooth appears—and no later than the child’s first birthday.
That’s because, as mentioned above, your little one is at risk of tooth decay and cavities from the moment that first tooth erupts. It’s best practice to begin seeing a dentist at that time.
Many children (and adults for that matter) have a fear of the dentist. Help your kids overcome that fear by stepping them through what to expect at the dentist.
During a dental exam, the dentist will examine the mouth for injuries, health issues, and cavities. In addition to an exam, a dental checkup will also include a thorough cleaning of the teeth.
This cleaning is important because no matter how diligent we are about brushing our teeth and flossing, some residue and plaque still stick to teeth. A dental hygienist uses special tools to remove that left-behind residue.
Regular checkups are essential for good health and development. To find a trusted pediatrician near you: FIND A PROVIDER HERE. To find a dentist through the American Dental Association: FIND A DENTIST HERE.