6 Tips: Keeping Your Child's Teeth Happy and Healthy

Dr. Derek Rognlien

How important is dental care for your child? That’s a question that every parent has to consider. As a dentist and father of young children, I can relate to parents when discussing ways to help get their children on a path to sound dental health. I have found that it’s never too early to focus your child on his or her dental health. 

Young children are fascinated with the changes that they see happening in their mouths, from no teeth, to baby teeth, to the transitioning to permanent teeth. Get your young ones comfortable with the routine of dental care and visiting a dentist early – it’s vital to their development. The way that you introduce dentistry into the family’s vocabulary is important. The more comfortable your family is with communicating the dental experience, the better equipped your children will be to at maintaining healthy mouths and strong teeth throughout their formative years and beyond.

Based on my experiences as a dentist/father and with an assist from ada.org and webmd.com, here are 6 helpful tips that we follow in our home that can encourage dental health in your home. 

1. Schedule your child for a dental checkup.

The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry say the first dental visit should occur within 6 months after the baby’s first tooth appears and no later than the child’s first birthday. The best way to introduce your child to the dentist is to have his or her first visit be a happy one. The first visit is also very important for the parents and creates an opportunity to ask questions and learn proper techniques to care for their child’s dental health.

2. Teach proper habits.

When your infant’s teeth begin to appear, you can begin to brush twice daily with a rice-grain sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste. As teeth begin to touch each other, flossing becomes very important to clean between them. Before bedtime, do not provide your child with any snacks or drinks, except water.

3. Limit juice and sugary beverages.

Providing juice as a beverage throughout the day can lead to tooth decay. Limit your child to no more than 4 ounces of 100 percent juice each day. Using juice only as a treat is best. Do not put your child down for a nap with a bottle containing milk or juice. Both of these beverages contain sugar that can stick to the teeth and feed the bacteria that cause tooth decay.

4. Eliminate the pacifier by age 2 or 3.

Pacifiers provide many benefits for children at a young age, but they can start to affect the alignment of teeth and proper growth of the mouth over time. After 2 years of age, any problems that developed from the use of the pacifier may not correct themselves.

5. Beware of medications with sweeteners or flavors.

Medications for children often contain flavored sweeteners. These can increase the chance of cavities, especially if your child is taking medications on a routine basis. Children on medication to treat chronic conditions, such as asthma and heart problems, often have a higher rate of tooth decay. Be sure to ask your dentist how often to brush if your child is taking long-term medications.

6. Hold firm when it comes to brushing and flossing.

Motivate your child with a sticker, fun activities, or gold stars on a chart. Make brushing fun! Let your children pick out their own toothpaste so they are excited when it comes to brushing.

Try to complete the brushing and flossing routine before they are too tired and less likely to want to cooperate. Kids can often start brushing with the help of an adult at 2 or 3 years of age, but are often not ready to brush on their own until 6.

Dental offices have become very effective at providing young patients with kid-friendly spaces. Most practices offer materials that help them to understand the concepts of good dental care. Follow these helpful tips and your children’s visits to the dentist will be pleasant and enjoyable.

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