You likely have a well-established habit of brushing your teeth twice per day, but what about your kids? Newsflash: It’s your responsibility to teach your kids proper oral hygiene, and there are a few essentials you should understand about this process.
First, know the risks your child faces. Tooth decay is very common with 42 percent of children in the U.S. between the ages of 2 and 11 suffering from tooth decay. It’s actually the most common chronic infectious disease among American children. Tooth pain, decay, and other oral problems contribute to financial troubles, absences at school, pain and suffering for the child, and even hospitalization. It’s vital that you help your kids take charge of their dental health.
1. See the Dentist Bi-Annually Starting at One Year Old
Your child’s first visit to the dentist should be either when they get their first tooth or when they’re a year old. Tooth decay, growth problems, gum disease, and more can affect your baby without you knowing it, and a dentist can diagnose and treat these problems early.
Make the appointment to visit a dentist at the same time you schedule your child’s 12-month well check with your pediatrician. You can call a pediatric dentist or the same general dentist you visit—both are trained to handle the dental needs of your child. Schedule your next appointment for six months after your first visit and maintain that schedule.
2. Beware Cavity-Causing Habits
Parents shouldn’t indulge certain childhood habits that could lead to tooth decay. To prevent tooth decay, prevent your child from doing the following:
Taking a bottle to bed. It can lead to a common condition called bottle rot, in which the milk stays on the teeth while the child sleeps, rotting the enamel.
Constantly eating snacks. Too much eating doesn’t give the saliva enough time to wash away foods and sugars that can rot teeth.
Chewing on hard objects. Kids are always putting things in their mouths, and it can cause their teeth to crack or break.
Grinding teeth. Kids that grind their teeth are more likely to develop sensitive teeth or cause problems with the enamel. Early prevention is key to preventing this long-term habit.
Thumb sucking. The best way to ensure your children need serious orthodontia is to allow them to suck their thumbs.
Drinking soda. Kids don’t need soda and other sugary drinks, and it can lead to decay.
These are just a few bad habits you’ll want to help your kids break. Talk to your dentist about other habits that can cause oral health problems.
3. Help Kids Brush Properly
Most young kids don’t have the motor skills to brush their teeth properly. They typically brush the front teeth while missing the back molars and the gum lines. For the first several years of your child’s life, you’ll need to help them brush all of their teeth until they’ve developed the dexterity to do it themselves.
Additionally, set a timer to help kids brush their teeth for at least two minutes. This typically ensures that they’re brushing each tooth long enough to help prevent problems.
4. Consider Getting Sealants for Your Child
Talk to your dentist about getting sealants. A dental sealant is a special coating that goes over molars and other uneven teeth that have divots and crevices that can attract bacteria and other decay-inducing gunk.
Sealants are usually affordable and require no drilling or numbing, so it’s a great way to protect your child from tooth decay, especially if they’re at higher risk for cavities. Your insurance may not pay for sealants, but it’s usually only a few dollars per tooth.
5. Understand Fluoride Treatments
There are varying opinions about the use of fluoride in oral hygiene, but most dentists agree that it’s an important part of protecting tooth enamel and ridding your mouth of cavity bugs. Fluoride is usually found in public water sources and toothpaste, but your dentist may recommend a fluoride treatment to help strengthen your child’s enamel and prevent decay.
This is an optional part of treatment, and many insurance companies do not fully cover the treatment. If you’re wondering if it’s right for you, do a little research beforehand and then talk to your dentist about the pros and cons of applying it to your child’s teeth.
6. Don’t Forget to Floss!
Flossing may not seem like a big deal when your child is small, but it’s essential! Cavities are just as likely to occur between the teeth as they are on the exposed surface. Flossing will help to protect those crevices from exposure to decay.
It’s also essential to help your child floss when they’re young in order to help them build up a habit for when they’re older. By doing so, you can help set your child up for success from a very young age.
I’m a single mother of 2 living in Utah writing about startups, business, marketing, entrepreneurship, and health. I also write for Inc, Score, Manta, and Newsblaze