Tips on baby teeth, brushing, and finding affordable dental care
Do you have young children? If so, take a moment to think about their dental health. The American Dental Association (ADA) promotes health dental habits all year long, but in February, the focus is on children’s dental health.
Here are some important tips to remember:
Tip #1: Baby teeth matter! Take your baby to the dentist by 1 year of age.
Some people think that because baby teeth eventually fall out, it’s not important to care for them. This is not true! If your child loses a baby tooth too early due to decay, the adult teeth can drift into the empty space and cause problems when the other adult teeth need to come in. In addition, teaching healthy dental habits when children are young can promote a lifelong habit of caring for your teeth.
The truth is, baby teeth matter! The ADA recommends getting your baby’s first dental appointment no later than the baby’s first birthday. During this visit, the dentist will most likely:
- Inspect the teeth for decay or other problems
- Clean the child’s teeth
- Provide you with tips for daily dental care
- Discuss pacifiers and thumb-sucking habits, and their effect on teeth
Do you need more affordable dental care for your children? The ADA provides a searchable database where you can enter your zip code and find a dental clinic near you. The clinics may not all be free, but they may be able to offer care at a reduced price.
If your children are insured through your state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program or Medicaid, there may be participating dentists near you. Visit http://www.insurekidsnow.gov/ to find out more.
Tip #2: It’s not easy being a kid! Help your children take care of their teeth.
While it may be tempting just to hand your child a toothbrush and have them figure it out themselves, the ADA strongly emphasizes the importance of caregivers helping children care for their teeth until they are able to do a thorough job by themselves. This may not be until age 6 or later. Here is the advice:
- For babies and children ages 0-3. You should begin brushing your children’s teeth as soon as the very first tooth erupts. Use a very soft child-sized toothbrush. Choose a children’s toothpaste with fluoride, and use a very small amount—about the size of a grain of rice. If the child begins to brush on his or her own, be sure to monitor the amount of toothpaste. Teach them to spit out the toothpaste as soon as they are able. Brush every morning and evening.
- For children ages 3-6: At this age, children can begin to brush for themselves, but depending on your child’s ability, you may still have to do the brushing until you are satisfied that the child is doing a thorough job. The amount of toothpaste can increase to a pea-sized amount. Remind your children not to swallow any toothpaste. Once children have two teeth that touch each other, you should floss for them, and eventually teach them how to floss. Brush twice per day; floss once per day.
- For children ages 6 and older: Check to see that your children are brushing twice a day and flossing once a day. Check to make sure their technique is thorough. If they have begun to rush the process, ask them to slow down, and remind them of the proper technique. Remember, good brushing and flossing techniques should be used for your entire life!
Tip #3: Avoid foods that are bad for the teeth
Sugars and acids are bad for your teeth, so avoiding prolonged exposure to them can help keep your teeth healthier. Here are some things to consider:
- Allowing your baby to fall asleep with a bottle or while breastfeeding can expose the child’s teeth to the sugars in the milk for a long period of time. It is better to avoid this if possible, so that the child’s mouth is clear of the milk before falling asleep.
- Pacifiers dipped in sugar, honey, or juice can lead to tooth decay. Avoid doing this.
- Certain foods are harmful to both baby teeth and adult teeth. Try to limit sugary drinks, sports drinks, hard candy, chewy candies, cough drops, and starchy foods like pretzels and chips that get stuck in your teeth. Try to clean your children’s teeth shortly afterwards so that these foods don’t stay on their teeth.
- Healthier foods for your child’s teeth in include cheese, meats, nuts, milk, firm/crunchy fruits, and vegetables.
- Once your child is old enough to chew gum, sugarless gums are actually thought to be good for your teeth, since the gum helps to remove stuck food and increase the flow of saliva to wash away harmful sugars and acids. But avoid sugary gums.
Bonus tip: Don’t forget to smile!
One benefit of keeping healthy teeth is a nice bright smile. Don’t forget to enjoy your children’s smiles every day!
Information for this article was gathered and adapted from the American Dental Association’s webpages found at http://www.mouthhealthy.org/. We hope this article has been helpful as you care for your children’s teeth during National Children’s Dental Health Month and beyond.–
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