Although your little one’s tiny teeth will eventually be replaced by larger permanent teeth, that’s no excuse to neglect good oral hygiene. More than 40 percent of children develop at least one cavity by the time they head to kindergarten, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Establishing smart dental practices in early childhood is key to avoiding damaging problems later in life. Young kids tend to be interested in how their bodies work, giving you a great opening to discuss the importance of healthy teeth and gums.
Establishing a Good Tooth Brushing Routine
By the time your child is two or three years old, she can begin to take charge of her own tooth brushing, although Kids Health recommends supervising your child until age five. Begin by sitting with your child on your lap, facing away from you. Add a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste to a child-sized toothbrush, and walk your little one through each step.
Show how to brush in a gentle, circular motion. It’s easiest for kids to learn if there are discrete steps, so move through each part of the mouth in a logical way, focusing on one or two teeth at a time. Playing a favorite song that lasts approximately two minutes is a good way to keep kids engaged in tooth brushing. Or, download the Kool Smiles app for a fun, kid-friendly tooth brushing timer.
Visit the Dentist Twice Per Year
Infants get their first tooth beginning as early as six months. Thus, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research recommends scheduling a dental appointment by your child’s first birthday. A pediatric dentist checks your child’s teeth, shows you the proper way to clean them and provides recommendations about fluoride and diet changes.
Fluoride is an important nutrient for oral health. This naturally-occurring element mixes with tooth enamel to prevent decay. Dentists recommend using non-fluoridated toothpaste until the age of two. After age two, use fluoridated toothpaste to keep your child’s teeth strong. Keep in mind that many municipal water supplies have added fluorine, another potential source for growing children.
Watch Out for Finger Sucking
Most infants suck their thumbs, but this behavior wanes by age three or four. Sucking the thumbs or fingers may affect the development of the palate (or roof of the mouth) as well as teeth alignment. To avoid expensive orthodontic bills later on, discourage the behavior after age four or five. Try using positive reinforcement by offering praise or a small reward when your child isn’t sucking his thumb. Also, look for triggers — many kids use thumb sucking as a stress relief tool, when a hug or reassurance from a parent may suffice.
Pay Attention to Sugary Foods
Following a healthy diet is essential to prevent cavities and maintain good oral health. Children aged two to three need one cup each of fruits and vegetables each day. Getting two cups of dairy from milk or yogurt also keeps your child’s teeth healthy. Watch out for juices. Even all-natural juice can be packed with sugars that lead to cavities. Instead, encourage your child to drink plenty of milk and water.
Sally is a human resources manager, mom and blogging enthusiast who writes about what she knows best.