It’s an exciting day for parents when their child gets their first tooth! Much like taking the first step, it’s a day for photos that will be treasured forever in the baby’s growth. After the excitement dies down, it’s not too soon for parents to lay the foundation for a lifetime of essential children’s dental care. How to care for children’s teeth isn’t difficult if good habits are started early.
The goal of anyone’s dental care is to ensure that all teeth erupt and grow in a healthy mouth. But without the proper attention, painful cavities and tooth decay can develop and can even lead to problems with eating, speaking, socialization, and learning. In fact, children who have poor oral health miss more school than children who don’t. So it can also impact their educational development throughout their lives.
In this article, we’ve put together a list of dental tips for parents so you can help your child grow and thrive with healthy teeth.
Tip # 1: It’s Never Too Early to Begin
You may be surprised to learn that experts believe a child’s dental care begins before the first tooth erupts. The 20 primary teeth are there just under the gums and actually started developing in the jaw during the second trimester of pregnancy.
Here are some suggestions to start caring for those teeth sooner rather than later:
- Before teeth start erupting, get into the habit of wiping the baby’s gums with a damp cloth. This clears away bacteria.
- Brush the child’s teeth as soon as they break through the gums. Use plain water and a toothbrush designed for infants.
- Begin flossing as soon as there are two teeth that touch each other.
- Don’t put your child to bed with a bottle! Sugars from the liquid stay on the teeth too long and can eat away at the tooth enamel.
- The first dental visit should be around your baby’s first birthday. This sets the stage in a positive way for dental visits for the rest of their lives.
- Find out during this first visit when you should begin using fluoride.
- Teach your child to brush on their own as soon as you can. Let them watch you brush your own teeth and talk your way through the process. Then let them try. Make it fun by using music and singing a song.
- Supervise all children under the age of eight as they brush. Teach them not to swallow toothpaste! Fluoride is safe in small quantities; too much can be a problem.
Tip # 2: A Child’s Diet Matters!
A good diet is essential for everyone, especially children, from an early age. Setting expectations and offering a healthy diet early will pay health benefits for a lifetime. It will also make it easier for you to enforce later if you provide healthy snacks and meals from the time the child eats solid foods.
Healthy eating means providing a well-balanced diet every day, specifically foods from all 5 food groups: fruit, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy. The Mayo Clinic specifies the following nutrient-dense foods:
- Protein: Focus on seafood, eggs, poultry, lean meat, beans, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.
- Fruits: Make a variety of fresh fruits available every day. Offer them instead of sweet snacks. Build this habit early.
- Vegetables: Have fresh, frozen, or dried vegetables handy for meals and snacking.
- Grains: Whole-wheat bread or pasta, oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, or brown or wild rice are the best choices.
- Dairy: Stock your fridge with fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. Fortified soy beverages also count as dairy.
Encourage snacking on fruits and vegetables instead of chips and cookies. And set the standard in your home that water is the drink of choice.
Limit the following:
- Added sugar: Buy cereals with minimal added sugars. Don’t offer sodas or any drinks with added sugars. Make sure any juice you have is 100% juice without added sugars. Don’t buy gummy vitamins unless they are sugar-free. Save sugary foods and candy for special occasions and don’t have a supply in the home.
- Saturated fats: Examples include some red meats, hot dogs, butter, and other full-fat dairy products. Fast foods are often prime examples, including pizza, sandwiches, burgers, and burritos. Desserts are often full of saturated fats, like cakes and other pastries, as well as ice cream.
- Salt: Processed foods, such as frozen pizza, pasta dishes, and soup, often have high amounts of salt (sodium). Check all canned foods for high levels of salt.
Check nutrition labels and don’t buy products high in sugar, saturated fats, and sodium. Of course, there will be times when kids eat sugar-filled foods. Have them brush afterward or at least rinse their mouth.
A family that eats a well-balanced diet every day provides the environment for good dental health.
Tip # 3: Know the Risk Factors for Cavities
Being well-informed about your child’s risk for cavities can prove invaluable as their teeth and bones develop. Follow the tips outlined in this article and then be especially vigilant if any of the following is true for your child:
- Other family members, such as older brothers, sisters, or parents, have had cavities.
- Your child eats sugary foods and drinks sodas between meals.
- They have special health care needs.
- They wear braces, aligners, or other orthodontic appliances.
- There is a history of bedtime infant feeding with a bottle.
- Your child has poor dental hygiene habits.
- You aren’t sure your child gets any (or enough) fluoride.
If any of these describe your child, talk with their dentist, pediatrician, or family doctor about extra steps you can take to protect your child’s teeth.
Caring for Your Child’s Teeth Is a Team Effort
You will lay a strong foundation for your child’s dental health by following the tips presented in this article. Taking proactive steps early, offering a healthy diet, and knowing your child’s risk factors for cavities are actions you can take now that will help them for a lifetime.
Your dental team here at Wilmington Dental Associates is here to help, too! Don’t hesitate to contact us today. We are ready to answer any questions you have about your child’s oral hygiene routine or if you’d like to schedule an appointment.