One of the biggest health concerns for children today is tooth decay, and by age 5, about 50 percent of kids have at least one cavity. Even if your child still has baby teeth, cavities matter and tooth decay at a young age can increase the risk for dental problems later in life. Of course, figuring out how to care for your child’s teeth at various ages can be difficult. When should you start brushing your child’s teeth? How old should your child be for that first dental appointment? What should kids eat to maintain good oral health? To prevent cavities and promote good oral health for life, here are a few tips and guidelines parents and/or caretakers should follow.
Infant Oral Care
Oral care starts when your child is a newborn. After every feeding, you’ll need to clean his or her gums gently with a damp, soft, clean cloth. Continue cleaning and massaging the gums after feedings until the first tooth comes in. You’ll also want to make sure you give your baby water and milk as appropriate instead of allowing babies to have juices that contain sugar.
When to Start Brushing
Once your child gets his or her first tooth, it’s time to start brushing your child’s teeth. Start with just a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste and choose a toothbrush that is soft and appropriately sized for your child’s age. Once your child is 3, you can begin allowing him or her to use a pea-size amount of the fluoride toothpaste, which does a great job at preventing cavities. Make sure you supervise kids under age 6 to make sure they rinse and spit instead of accidentally swallowing the toothpaste. Remind children to brush all surfaces of the teeth — including the top, front and back — since cavities can form on any tooth surface. Teeth should be brushed a minimum of twice a day.
When to Start Flossing
Once your child has teeth that are touching, you can begin teaching him or her to floss. It’s important to get kids started with this habit early. Your child’s toothbrush can’t clean between the teeth, so flossing is essential. You’ll need to do the flossing until kids are old enough to floss on their own. Most kids can handle flossing on their own by age 10.
The Importance of Diet for Oral Health
Good oral hygiene is important, but a child’s diet is an important part of caring for his or her teeth as well. What children eat and when they eat matters. When starches and sugars combine with bacteria within the mouth, acids are created that dissolve the structure of the teeth, resulting in cavities. It’s important to limit sugars and starches in a kid’s diet to prevent cavities. Eating healthy meals regularly and drinking fluoride water can help prevent tooth decay.
Protecting Permanent Teeth
As children’s adult teeth begin to come in, they may deal with some discomfort. You can manage pain and discomfort from new teeth or loose baby teeth with cold compresses or over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen. Once your child’s permanent teeth are in place, it’s important to protect them. Good oral hygiene habits — including brushing and flossing — are essential. If your child plays any sports, make sure he or she is fitted with a mouth guard to protect those permanent teeth and prevent injury.
Dental sealants may offer another way to protect permanent teeth. They are used on molars that have deep grooves to help prevent decay; keeping food particles, bacteria and plaque from being able to settle into those deep grooves. Once your child’s permanent teeth come in, talk to your dentist to find out if sealants are a good choice for your child.
When Should Kids See a Dentist?
Children should have their first dentist’s appointment by their first birthday or when their first tooth comes in, whichever occurs first. After the first visit, you’ll need to schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings for your child, as well. Aside from routine checkups, if your child has any tooth pain or sustains a mouth injury, it’s always a good idea to have your child see a pediatric dentist. For more information on how to properly care for your child’s teeth, contact Burrow Orthodontics or consult with your local dentist.