As a child, losing teeth is an exciting reality. Although it is natural for children to lose baby teeth to make room for their permanent, adult teeth, oral health care is important from the start. Instilling good oral care habits in children while they’re young is the best way to set them up for success.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 20% of children between the ages of five and eleven have at least one cavity. Even though it’s likely that these cavities are present in “baby teeth,” preventing the development of more cavities can improve your child’s chances of avoiding cavities in adult teeth.
Check out these three habits you can work on with your child to ensure a lifetime of proper oral health.
Establish a Healthy Diet
It’s fair to say that most people understand oral health is affected by what we eat. However, it’s possible your child doesn’t fully comprehend what this means. Therefore, it’s important to work with your child to develop a healthy diet. Whether or not they are actively aware of these habits, they will have a lifelong effect on their teeth.
The concept of a balanced diet is engrained in children as a part of most education programs in the United States. That said, being able to implement and adhere to a healthy balance of food starts and ends at home. Although some circumstances may make it more difficult for some families to have a well-balanced plate for every meal, every possible effort should be made to diversify your child’s diet.
Oral health starts from within. While it’s important to care for teeth themselves, what your child eats and their overall bodily health do have an effect on their teeth and gums. There are ways for every family to incorporate ingredients and foods that promote healthy enamel, good bacteria, and remineralization of teeth.
There are certain foods and beverages that have a surface-level effect on teeth, but dentists agree that basic nutrition is your best defense against tooth decay and gum disease.
It’s common knowledge that sugary foods and drinks are bad for teeth. They’re also not the healthiest option in regard to nutritional value. While enjoying snacks and desserts is an indulgence we all enjoy, helping your child to establish a healthy relationship with food and their diet is imperative to their wellbeing.
Sugar naturally occurs in many foods, but added sugars can reach unbelievable numbers in processed snacks. Keep an eye on how many sweets your child eats, and how many sugary beverages they consume each day. Even organic “healthy” juices can have high sugar content.
The danger with sugar is that, when it interacts with the bacteria in saliva, it forms into an acid. This higher acidic level causes teeth decay. Eventually, if the level of this gets too high, it will result in more cavities and other dental issues.
Stick to an Oral Care Routine
Arguably the most important habit to establish with your child is a dentist-approved oral care routine. Despite genetics, diet, and other outside factors, taking care of your child’s teeth is the absolute best defense against cavities and other dental issues.
Brushing and Flossing
The significance of brushing and flossing cannot be overstated. It’s never too early to start instilling this process as a habit with your child, even in infancy. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that rubbing an infant’s gums is a good practice to start with. From there, special brushes can be found for freshly cut baby teeth. Starting out in this way will acclimate your child to the sensation of oral care.
As they continue to grow, the CDC promotes brushing teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste as the best practice, even for children. A good way to help your child establish a healthy oral care routine is to model the behavior for them. Make morning and evening brushing and flossing a part of your schedule, if possible. It’s especially important to supervise young children to help them perfect their brushing and flossing techniques.
Establishing these routines in childhood will promote good teen oral care, which will then carry on into adulthood. Brushing and flossing are self-care items that should eventually become independent activities, but they are not something your should allow your child to do on their own too soon.
In addition to using ADA-approved toothpaste, there are many mouthwash options available on the market. Some of there have been developed specifically for children, with flavors that appeal to a younger demographic – such as bubblegum and grape. Incorporating a good mouthwash into your child’s oral care routine is recommended by most pediatric dentists, and is just one more tool in your oral care arsenal.
Using mouthwash has a number of benefits. One is that it can offer parents peace of mind that their child’s oral health is uncompromised. While you want your child to brush and floss regularly, it’s impossible to know whether they’re really getting all the nooks and crannies in and around their teeth. A post-brushing mouthwash will eliminate more bacteria and catch a significant amount of residue that novice brushing may leave behind.
What’s more, using mouthwash is great for people of all ages. Mouthwashes promote healthier gums, kill more bacteria, and offer enamel-strengthening benefits. While establishing good brushing and flossing habits, consider adding a mouthwash to the mix.
Appointments with Dentists
Oral health starts at home, but that doesn’t change the fact that dentists know best. Make sure that your child has their own dentist to see with regularity. Although there are family dental practices, a pediatric dentist has specialized in the care of children and their teeth.
Pediatric dentists are trained to work with children and are comfortable navigating the smaller scale of a child’s teeth and mouth. They will be able to recognize indications of future dental issues and will know whether your child’s adult teeth are growing in a way that will require orthodontic intervention.
Understanding that there’s a learning curve for children and their personal oral care routines, setting up regular appointments with dentists is a great safety net to catch plaque and tartar buildup that’s missed. Brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash are essential to proper oral health, but seeing a dentist means that any unavoidable issues are addressed as soon as possible.
Protect Your Teeth
Maintaining a good diet and establishing a dental routine is only part of great oral health. On the most basic level, teeth are tools that help us on a daily level to masticate food and retrieve the nutrients and sustenance we, as humans, require to survive. However, it’s important to make sure that your child’s teeth and mouth are protected as much as possible.
Teeth vs. Tools
Yes, teeth are tools. However, their purpose is for chewing and breaking down food. Teeth are not tools in the sense that they should be used for multiple purposes. What does this mean? Eliminate any bad habits that your child may start to develop, such as nail-biting, pen chewing, or otherwise using their teeth for tasks unrelated to chewing food.
Like any tool, teeth are prone to breakage if they’re applied to a task that’s beyond their intended purpose. Nail-biting adds unnecessary pressure and abrasion to your child’s teeth that can, over time, wear down enamel. This activity is also highly unsanitary and introduces bacteria and other germs to the oral ecosystem. These extra bacteria can increase the likelihood of gum disease.
Similarly, children who develop a habit of biting or chewing objects like pens, straws, or other inedible materials are prone to cracking or chipping their teeth. If you notice that your child has oral fixations, make an effort to eradicate the behavior and redirect their habit. Despite its sugar content, introducing gum can be a good way to fend off nail-biting and oral fixation when necessary.
Help your child to understand that, while teeth are powerful, they have a purpose. If their nails need a trim, nail clippers are the appropriate tool. If they want to chew on something, chewing gum is a great choice. Model appropriate tooth usage by making sure that you are abiding by this mindset, as well. For adults, this may mean that you are avoiding opening plastic packaging, removing clothing tags, or opening bottles using your teeth.
Many children are involved in sports. Being active and participating in team activities are great for child development and should be encouraged for lifelong skills and physical health. That being said, many sports — high-contact or otherwise — include the risk of oral impact. Whether that comes in the form of being hit with a high-speed ball or the possibility of having teeth cut through cheeks or lips, physical activity requires mouth protection.
Incorporating a mouthguard into your child’s athletic gear is the best way to keep their teeth protected. Mouthguards are required in some sports, so consideration in these instances should be given to finding the right guard for your child. For other sports, a mouthguard may not be required but should be incorporated to keep your child safe.
Finding a comfortable and appropriately sized mouthguard is essential. An ill-fitting mouthguard can be just as bad as not having one in the first place. Make sure that you work with your child and their coach or instructor to find the best fit and keep their teeth protected.
In instances where a mouthguard is not necessarily required, adding one into the mix adds a level of protection for your child. Certainly, you want to make sure that all of their teeth stay in place, but a mouthguard prevents other injuries, too. Using a mouthguard will prevent – or at least mitigate – damage to your child’s mouth and face should they suffer the impact of another athlete or piece of equipment.
Your Child’s Oral Health Is Your Responsibility As a Parent
The responsibility of healthy oral care habits does not fall to dentists. It falls to parents. While dentists can offer great insight, demonstration, and resources to help, establishing a healthy oral care routine for children is a part of being a parent. Unfortunately, sometimes genetics intervene and a family may be more prone to cavities, gum disease, or alignment issues. However, that means that instilling these habits in your child is even more important.
There are so many resources that can help parents and children work to develop and establish a routine that works for them. Many of these resources are created by dentists for this specific purpose. If you have more than one child, they may have different dentists — especially if you utilize a dental practice or your children are at various ages. If that is the case for your family, make sure that each child is abiding by the medical advice from their own dentist.
Positive habits for lifelong oral health extend far beyond merely brushing twice a day and using floss. It’s important to start incorporating brushing and healthy dietary habits with your child early on in order to help them develop good oral hygiene. Dentists agree that the earlier you start bringing your child to the dentist, the better. The same goes for the onset of brushing and flossing, teeth protection, and more. Help your child lead a healthier life with the habits included here.
Trust Smilez Pediatric Dental Group to Care for Your Family’s Teeth
For families in the Sterling, VA area, Smilez Pediatric Dental Group is a great choice for your child’s oral healthcare. We are passionate about helping children and families establish healthy and effective oral hygiene habits, and would love to be a part of your family’s wellness team. We have a number of resources available on our website for those families outside of our dental care network. However, if you’re in Loudoun county or are willing to make the trip, call to set up an appointment with us today!