(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.
Control the Sippy Cup Habit
Bottles taken to bed aren’t the only beverage problem. The other? Juice. Juice given during the day as a substitute for water and milk is often in a sippy cup. It’s meant as a transition cup when a child is being weaned from a bottle and learning to use a regular cup. Prolonged use of a sippy cup can cause decay on the back of the front teeth if the beverages they contain are sugary.
A little nutrition note: Juice consumption has been linked to childhood obesity and the development of tooth decay, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In its current policy statement on preventive oral health, the organization advises parents to limit the intake of 100% fruit juice to no more than four ounces a day. Sugary drinks and foods should be limited to mealtimes. These days most pediatricians are telling parents to use juice only as a treat.
Beware of Mouth-Unfriendly Medicines
Many medications that children take are flavored and sugary. If that sticks on the teeth, the risk for tooth decay goes up. Children on medications for chronic conditions such as asthma and heart problems often have a higher decay rate, she finds. Antibiotics and some asthma medications can cause an overgrowth of candida (yeast), which can lead to a fungal infection called oral thrush. Suspect thrush if you see creamy, curd-like patches on the tongue or inside the mouth.
If your child is on chronic medications, ask your child’s dentist how often you should brush. You may be advised to help your child brush as often as four times a day.
Stand Firm on Oral Hygiene
As a parent you may encounter the problem with your children putting up a fuss when it comes time to brush and floss. Because of this you may cave in and not keep up with oral care at home as you should. However, it is strongly advised that you let your children know they don’t have a choice about brushing and flossing.
But it has to be done, even if children can get cranky and difficult. Here are some tips to get reluctant brushers and flossers to get the job done — or if they are too young, to allow their parents to help them do it.
• Plan to help your children longer than you may think necessary. Children don’t have the fine motor skills to brush their own teeth until about age 6. Flossing skills don’t get good until later, probably age 10.
• Schedule the brushing and flossing and rinsing, if advised, at times when your child is not overly tired. You may get more cooperation from a child who isn’t fatigued.
• Get your child involved in a way that’s age-appropriate. For instance, you might let a child who is age 5 or older pick his own toothpaste at the store, from options you approve. You could buy two or three different kinds of toothpaste and let the child choose which one to use each time. You may offer him a choice of toothbrushes, including kid-friendly ones that are brightly colored or decorated.
• Figure out what motivates your child. A younger child may gladly brush for a sticker, for instance, or gold stars on a chart.