Raising kids is a challenging responsibility; that's why there are so many books on parenting through a child's changing behavior. But what about oral health education? Knowing how to care for your child's teeth is just as important as other areas of rearing, particularly if you want to prevent dental disease. Here's a guide to help you keep your child's teeth and gums healthy from birth to adulthood.
Birth to Kindergarten
Even when there are no visible teeth yet, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends cleaning your baby's gums after feedings with a moist gauze pad or clean cloth. The first teeth that appear – around six months of age – are susceptible to tooth decay upon their eruption, so consistent cleaning is especially important. In addition, avoid putting your baby to bed with anything other than water to prevent a more serious problem of baby bottle tooth decay.
Eventually, you can clean your baby's primary teeth with a baby-sized toothbrush like Colgate®My First®, using water or a non-fluoride paste. After age two, the ADA suggests using a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. And begin flossing your child's teeth when you notice two or more teeth touching one another.
All 20 baby teeth will erupt between six months and three years, and you'll soon learn which tricks (chilled teething rings, gum massages, etc.) can pacify fussiness due to teething. Keep in mind the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against using any topical gels and liquids containing benzocaine, which can have adverse effects in kids younger than two years old.
Ultimately, schedule your son or daughter's first dental visit by their first birthday. This is a great time to discuss fluoride recommendations, teething, thumb-sucking and home care concerns with the dentist.
Elementary School Years
Children begin shedding their baby teeth by age five or six, right when their permanent teeth start to erupt. They should have all of these teeth in by 12 or 13. It's important to remember, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), that children are typically not coordinated enough to brush and floss on their own until about eight to 10 years old.
Nonetheless, kids can grab their own snacks early on; keep your fridge stocked with healthy, non-sugary choices like cheeses, yogurt, peanut butter, fresh veggies and fruit. The AAPD suggests even chocolate milk is a good choice for kids.
Your child should be seeing a dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings, during which time the dentist will monitor the alignment of your child's teeth and possibly recommend dental sealants and in-office fluoride treatments to prevent early decay. Of course, eventually, the office staff will teach your child the basic techniques of brushing and flossing.
The Teen Years
Now is when you expect all of the good oral hygiene rituals and diet choices you've been harping on to stick. However, keep up the vigilant reminders about brushing and flossing. Young teens often get lax with home care, and should limit their intake of sugary snacks and soft drinks. If your child has braces, he is surely frustrated with diet restrictions or the challenges of brushing and flossing. Stress how beautiful and attractive that smile will be when the braces come off.
College and Beyond
Through your diligence (and their patience), your child will be going off to college with healthy teeth and several good oral hygiene practices. But before they go, schedule a dental appointment for a cleaning and thorough examination. It's around this age that wisdom teeth start to erupt, and if there isn't enough room, your dentist may recommend they be taken out. Schedule this common procedure before your child leaves for college or during a holiday break.
Kids love getting care packages while at college. Include plenty of dental care products, like new toothbrushes, fluoride toothpaste, mouthwash, floss and sugarless gum. They'll thank you later!
Oral health education isn't just essential to good parenting; it is a rewarding part of the journey. In fact, you'll reap the rewards every time you see your child's beautiful smile and healthy teeth.