It is never too early to encourage healthy dental hygiene for kids. Your child’s teeth are at risk of decay as soon as they first erupt. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, tooth decay in children, also known as early childhood caries, is the most common chronic children’s disease in the country. In some cases, severe tooth decay can result in tooth loss. The good news is that tooth decay is completely preventable. So what can you do to establish good dental health and hygiene for your child? It is as easy as following some basic guidelines.
Primary Tooth Eruption
Check your child’s teeth. Generally, the first primary tooth erupts between 6 and 9 months of age, and by 3 years of age your child should have 20 primary teeth. If your child does not develop his first tooth by 9 months, you should see your pediatrician. Healthy primary teeth are white without spots or stains, and healthy gums are smooth and pink. If your child’s teeth are spotty or stained, make an appointment with your dental care professional. The American Dental Association recommends that you make a dental visit six months after the first tooth appears, but no later than your child’s first birthday.
New parents often ask, “When should my child first see a dentist?” Your child should see a dentist by his or her first birthday.
Cleaning Primary Teeth for Optimal Oral Health
From birth to 12 months, you should gently wipe your baby’s gums with a clean baby washcloth or gauze. When the first tooth appears, clean the surface using a baby toothbrush and water. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best time to clean your baby’s teeth is after breakfast and before bedtime.
For children 12-24 months of age, use a child-size toothbrush and a pea-size amount of toothpaste. Unless fluoridated toothpaste is explicitly recommended by your dentist or pediatrician, it is best not to use it until your child can safely spit to prevent ingestion of excessive amounts of toothpaste. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that fluoride is a safe, naturally occurring substance that is very effective in preventing tooth decay. If you do not live in a community that supplements the drinking water with fluoride, your dentist or pediatrician may prescribe a fluoride supplement. For children with a low risk of developing early childhood caries, supplements are not recommended, and other sources of fluoride should be sought.
Brushing and flossing are a very important part of your child’s dental hygiene regimen; therefore, it is very important to use the proper technique. To brush your child’s teeth:
- Angle the brush at 45 degrees to the gums.
- Move the brush gently back and forth.
- Brush all surfaces of teeth (outer, inner, and chewing).
- To brush the inner surface of the front teeth, tilt the brush vertically, and brush gently up and down.
- Brush your tongue to remove any bacteria.
To floss your child’s teeth:
- Cut about 18 inches of floss.
- Wrap one end around one middle finger and the rest around your other middle finger.
- Hold the floss tightly between the thumbs and forefingers, and gently insert it between the teeth.
- Curve the floss into a C shape, and gently move the floss up and down while keeping it pressed against the tooth.
- Floss all the teeth, and do not forget to floss behind the back teeth.
Flossing should begin only when your child has 2 teeth that are touching, which normally occurs around 2 to 2 1/2 years of age. Whereas children can brush independently by age 6, they tend to have trouble flossing until they are around 8–10 years old. An excellent tool that will aid your child while they learn how to floss is the floss holder. For older children, tying the ends of a piece of floss together to create a loop of about 10 inches will allow them to hold the floss between thumb and forefinger, thereby making it easier to floss using proper technique.
Most importantly, take care of your own teeth. Practice what you preach. You and your child can brush and floss together. Dental hygiene does not have to be a chore. Instead, it can be a fun bonding activity for you and your child.
by Dianne L. Sefo, RDH, BA