(BlackDoctor.org) — Your children are precious. And so are their teeth. But many parents have a tough time judging just how much dental care their kids actually need. By kindergarten age, more than 40% of kids have tooth decay. Why is this the case for so many?
The largest misstep is not caring for a child’s teeth from the very first tooth. Proper dental care begins even before a baby’s first tooth appears — just because you can’t see the teeth doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. Teeth actually begin to form in the second trimester of pregnancy, and at birth a baby has 20 primary teeth, some of which are fully developed in the jaw.
So, when should you schedule your child’s first trip to the dentist? Should your 3-year-old be flossing? How do you know if your child needs braces? Following is a 6-step game plan to get you started with caring for your child’s oral health.
Start Oral Care Early
Your child should see a dentist by the time they are a year old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.Getting preventitive care early saves money in the long run. Costs for dental care are nearly 40% lower over a five-year period for children who gets dental care by age one compared to those who don’t go to the dentist until later.
Teach the Brush & Floss Habit
Dental visits are just part of the plan, of course. Tooth brushing is also crucial from the start. A lot of people think they don’t have to brush baby teeth. But if your baby has even one tooth, it’s time to start tooth brushing.
Even before your baby has teeth, you can gently brush the gums, using water on a soft baby toothbrush, or clean them with a soft washcloth. Once there are additional teeth, you can buy infant toothbrushes that are very soft. Brushing should be done twice daily using a fluoridated toothpaste. Flossing should begin when two teeth touch each other. If you’re not sure how to go about this, you can ask your dentist to show you the right flossing techniques and schedules.
Also ask your dentist’s advice on when to start using mouthwash. It’s advised that parents wait until the child can definitely spit the mouthwash out, as mouthwash is a rinse and not a beverage. Also ask your dentist if your child’s teeth need fluoride protection or a dental sealant.
So how long until your child can be responsible for brushing their own teeth? Generally, parents have to clean the teeth until children are able to tie their shoes or write in cursive (traditional advice given to parents by dentists).
Avoid “Baby Bottle Decay”
For years, pediatricians and dentists have been cautioning parents not to put an infant or older child down for a nap with a bottle of juice, formula, or milk. Even so, many parents don’t realize this can wreak havoc with their child’s oral health.
The sugary liquids in the bottle cling to baby’s teeth, providing food for bacteria that live in the mouth. The bacteria produce acids that can trigger tooth decay. Left unchecked, dental disease can adversely affect a child’s growth and learning, and can even affect speech. If you must give your child a bottle to take to bed, make sure it contains only water, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines.