Protecting your child’s teeth at a young age is especially important. If their teeth go unattended, they are at a greater risk of tooth decay as they get older. One of the most common chronic diseases for children, ages 6 to 11, and teenagers, ages 12 to 19, is tooth decay, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
If your child develops tooth decay, they may experience great pain, have trouble chewing and be embarrassed to talk or smile. It may also create dental issues for your children when they are older. To avoid such problems, here are five crucial steps to protecting your child’s teeth:
1. Brushing and Flossing Their Teeth
When your child’s first baby tooth comes in, begin brushing immediately. Baby teeth hold the space for adult teeth, so it’s important to start taking care of their teeth early. You’ll also want to start flossing as soon as their teeth begin touching. By the time they reach the ages most prone to developing tooth decay, they will have the basic foundation for good oral health and will hopefully be able to get through those vulnerable years unscathed.
2. Regular Dental Checkups
When should you start taking your child in for regular dental checkups? When they are one year old. Yes, you read that correctly. You want to ensure that as they begin to grow and develop, they have healthy gums and teeth. While at their regular dental checkup, make sure you ask your dentist if your child needs fluoride protection or a dental sealant for their teeth to better protect their teeth. And for more information on calming a child’s fears of the dentist, see: The Parental Nightmare: Taking Your Child to the Dentist.
3. Drinking Responsibly
Infants often fall asleep when they are being fed a bottle of formula, juice or milk. However, many parents are unaware of how bad that is for their child’s oral health. Some of the liquids, particularly juice, are full of sugar and can cling to a baby’s teeth. This provides food for bacteria to continue living in your child’s mouth, which can soon lead to tooth decay. In some extreme cases, not tending to this problem could lead to a stunt in a child’s growth and learning. If you continue to give your baby a bottle before bed, make sure it contains only water. Likewise, if you allow your child to drink out of a Sippy cup and the liquids inside are sugary, they may also face the risk of tooth decay. This decay will primarily target the back of their front teeth, as this is where the Sippy cup spout rests. Any of the sugary drinks that may contribute to a child’s tooth decay should be limited to meals so that the saliva produced by some foods can help wash away the bacteria from the sugary drink.
4. Pacifier Age Limit
While pacifiers are believed to help prevent sudden infant death syndrome and are therefore good when your child is an infant, by age two or three they become hazardous to your child’s dental health. Sucking too much on a pacifier can impact how the top and bottom teeth line up. They can also affect the shape of your child’s mouth.
5. Exercise Caution with Sugary Medicines
Many children’s cough syrups and other treatments have been flavored to cater to a child’s taste. However, they are often very sugary. They stick to your child’s teeth and can increase the risk of tooth decay. Children with chronic conditions like asthma or heart problems are at a higher risk for this though because of the treatment needed for these conditions can cause an overgrowth of candida (yeast). This can lead to an infection known as oral thrush. If your child is taking ongoing medicines, speak to your dentist about how often you should brush your child’s teeth. You may need to brush your child’s teeth as often as four times a day.
None of these steps will make an impact if you don’t stand firm. Children often fight with their parents when it’s time to brush and floss their teeth at night. Many times the parents will give in. Make sure you stand firm and make your children brush their teeth. Don’t let them believe they have a choice when it comes to that. Their oral health is important. If you start reiterating how important it is and they start brushing and flossing their teeth regularly at a young age, they will continue that on as they get older, furthering their good oral health. Here are a few ways to help in that:
- Help your children longer than you think they need help. You may be able to reach the plaque in their teeth that they cannot.
- Brush your teeth with them. Often your young kids will be more willing to brush their teeth if mom and dad are brushing their teeth too.
- Encourage them to brush their teeth before they are too tired to do so. The more tired they are, the crankier they will be and the less likely they will be willing to cooperate.
- Get your child more involved. Let them pick out their own toothpaste and toothbrush at the store from the options you approve of.
For more tips and some encouragement, see our Mom’s Guide to caring for little teeth.