Have you heard? February is National Children’s Dental Health Month! It’s a great time to “brush up” on all the different ways you can help your children get started on the road to a lifetime of first-rate oral health. Here are 5 tips that will not only reduce your child’s risk of suffering dental problems in their earliest years—but also reinforce good oral health habits that can serve them throughout childhood and beyond:
1. Establish an Effective Daily Oral Hygiene Routine. Tooth decay remains the world’s most widespread chronic childhood disease—yet with regular care, it’s almost completely avoidable. Decay prevention starts with an effective daily oral hygiene routine. The time to begin is as soon as your child’s first tooth appears. It’s a good idea to wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a moist gauze pad or washcloth after feedings. Teeth that have grown in fully can be brushed with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice. Your baby’s teeth need fluoride to increase their resistance to decay; but until your baby is old enough to spit out toothpaste after brushing, you should only use a tiny bit of it. Your child will need your help brushing until around the age of 6. Flossing is also crucial: start flossing your child’s teeth when there are two teeth that touch. Flossing is a little tougher to learn than brushing, so your help may be required even after tooth brushing is mastered.
2. Limit Sugar. Sugar is the enemy of healthy teeth. It feeds the oral bacteria that are responsible for tooth decay, and allows them to produce tooth-destroying acids. The more sugar in your child’s mouth, the more acid comes in contact with the teeth—eroding the enamel and forming cavities. But the list of foods and drinks that contain sugar may surprise you. The liquids that nourish a child in infancy—formula, milk, even breast milk—all contain sugars that can harm teeth if left in the mouth too long. That’s why you should never put your child down for a nap or bedtime with a bottle filled with anything but water. If you do, sugars can remain in contact with the baby’s teeth for hours, wreaking havoc on dental health. As your child grows older, limit between-meal snacks—particularly those that contain sugar. To your child over until the next meal, try a piece of fruit or low-fat cheese stick instead. Also, be very careful about what beverages you encourage your child to drink; even natural juices are high in sugar and acid. So are many so-called “sports” and “energy” drinks, which should be avoided.
3. Set a Good Example. Take another look at items 1 & 2; are you sure you are practicing these tips yourself? If so, you’ll cut your own risk of dental problems as you set a good example for your kids. If not, your kids will probably see that too. Do you snack throughout the day? Reach for chips instead of fruit when you are hungry? Drink soda instead of water? Skip flossing because you just don’t feel like it? “Do as I say, not as I do” hasn’t yet proven to be an effective parenting tool!
4. Monitor Thumb Sucking. This is a perfectly normal habit for very young children; but you don’t want it to persist much past the age of 3. The constant pressure of a thumb in the mouth can actually change the way your child’s jaw develops and bite problems could result. Most children stop on their own between the ages of 2 and 4. But if you sense this is becoming a problem, ask your family dentist for advice.
5. See Your Dentist Regularly. Every child needs a “dental home” where they can go for periodic checkups and professional cleanings. Experts recommend that children should have their first dental appointment no later than their first birthday. This may sound early, but it’s actually the ideal time to establish this extremely important habit for good health. And preventive dental visits are one of the best bargains in healthcare: That’s because the earlier a dental problem is caught, the less costly it is to treat in terms of money, time, and discomfort. After the first visit, your child will see that the dentist’s office is a place where nice people help you stay healthy. And the party favors can be pretty good, too!
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