We all want our kids to have movie-star smiles as adults. As parents, this means knowing how to protect their teeth when they’re young, while ensuring that they practice good dental health care for a lifetime.
It’s very important to “brush up” on instilling good oral-hygiene habits. Consider this: according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), nearly one in three children ages two to five years old in the U.S. are affected by tooth decay, which is one of the top chronic infectious diseases among children and can compromise their health, development, and quality of life in both the short and long term.
“Parents are bombarded with unsolicited advice and health findings that are constantly changing,” says Dr. Jade Miller, AAPD President. “We don’t want to add to that stress, but there are a few common misconceptions, that could help make a huge difference in your child’s oral health — which is linked to their overall health and wellness.” The good news is that tooth decay is nearly 100 percent preventable. The following do’s and don’ts from the AAPD can keep tooth decay at bay and keep kids smiling for years to come:
1. Do cut down on sugar.
Children shouldn’t graze on candy and sugary drinks (including sports drinks and juice). That prolonged exposure to sugar and acid can wreak havoc on teeth. Instead, stick to designated meal and snack times and have them drink plenty of water throughout the day.
2. Don’t put babies to bed with a bottle.
Milk and juice contain sugar. When babies are put to bed with a bottle, the sugar coats their teeth while they are sleeping, causing tooth decay. If you use a bottle before sleep, opt for water.
3. Do wean children off of pacifiers by age three.
Pacifiers are a natural way for children to self-soothe. However, prolonged use can increase the risk of cavities, and affect the way a child’s teeth bite together often causing an overbite.
4. Do avoid topical teething gels and rings.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns against using teething gels that contain benzocaine or lidocaine because they can harm your child. Parents and caregivers should stay away from teething rings too which contain chemicals, and low levels of BPA– despite labels citing otherwise — that can be harmful to your child.
Brushing twice a day for at least 2 minutes is recommended, yet not always achieved. Set a timer and use a tartar dye if desired to be sure all the teeth surfaces are reached and that brushing has happened long enough to be effective at removing plaque.
6. Start brushing early.
It may seem odd to think of cleaning your baby’s mouth before they have any teeth, however, this can be an important step in building a solid oral health routine. When your child’s mouth is nothing but pink, use a damp cloth or your finger to clean his or her gums after feedings. And as soon as that first pearly white appears, get out the toothbrush and start brushing.
In the beginning, be sure to find a toothbrush with soft bristles and just use water to prevent your baby from swallowing too much fluoride. When you want to introduce toothpaste, start with a small rice size amount.
You’ll likely have to help your child brush until age 4 or 5. Make sure you explain how to hold the brush and the correct motions to reach all parts of the tooth. And you’ll still want to supervise until at least 6 or 7 to be sure the job is getting done correctly, maybe longer if the rebellion phase starts early.
7. Don’t share germs
Don’t share utensils, cups, bottles, pacifiers or other items with your kids or allow them to be shared with others. Bacteria in our mouths can be passed to each other and isn’t healthy. Be sure to sanitize all items that may be in your baby’s mouth to prevent bacterial infections such as thrush.
Talk to your kids about what they can expect at the dentist. Talk to your dentist about any concerns you have such as crowding, thumb sucking, losing teeth, mouth guards, and whatever else concerns you.
9. Finish with Water
When giving your child a snack that may stay in his/her teeth, try to follow up with some water. Water is a great neutralizer and it can help to wash away food that gets stuck in the teeth.