When it comes to children’s dental care, it’s all about good hygiene. Establishing a routine that encourages kids to brush, floss, and rinse ensures a lifetime of strong, healthy teeth. These at-home oral habits complement the work your dentist does to help keep kids’ smiles beautiful.
Still, life with kids remains unpredictable. How do you know when baby teeth come in? What do you do when a wayward hockey puck knocks out your child’s two front teeth?
Read on for 11 tips to help you navigate the world of children’s dental care.
Find a Pediatric Dentist You and Your Kids Love
The first tip to ensuring your children’s dental care is to find a pediatric dentist that you and your kids trust. Often this goes hand-in-hand with finding a family dentistry practice with specialists in all fields of dentistry, including pediatrics.
According to the American Dental Association,
“Pediatric dentistry is an age-related specialty that provides both primary and comprehensive preventive and therapeutic oral health needs for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health care needs.”
Seeing a pediatric dentist with experience treating kids of all ages helps foster healthy oral care habits for life. When scoping out a potential pediatric dentist, make sure the office is located near home or work. Also, ensure the office offers convenient hours that fit into you and your child’s schedule. After all, no one wants to feel anxious and rushed at the dentist – especially a young child!
The experts at Colgate recommend a children’s dental care office that offers a child-friendly environment. As a result, the office makes it a treat for kids to visit and look forward to going back to brightly colored exam rooms or waiting rooms with games and toys. They also suggest putting children at ease by visiting the office before the appointment, reading books that feature characters at the dentist, and talking about the dentist regularly between biannual exams.
Start Early and Encourage Age-Appropriate Dental Habits at Home
Children’s dental care begins early in life. Baby’s first visit to the dentist should happen after the first tooth appears and no later than the first birthday, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Even tiny baby teeth can get cavities.
Take advantage of your child’s very first dental exam by making a list of questions ahead of time. A pediatric dentist offers advice about teething, bottles, thumb-sucking and pacifier usage.
As soon as children are old enough to understand brushing and flossing, commit them to a lifetime of taking care of their teeth and gums at home. The ADA breaks down children’s dental care habits as they should occur by age:
- Age 6 and younger: Your child probably doesn’t have the fine motor skills necessary to do a thorough brushing job. Embrace their enthusiasm – let them start brushing, but jump in when needed.
- Ages 7 – 12: Kids in this age range know they should brush their teeth, but they may not want to. Though they are nearly teenagers by the end of this stage, you may still need to jump in to make sure the job gets done. Regularly encourage healthy brushing and flossing habits.
- Ages 13 – 18: This is a critical time for children’s dental care, according to ADA member Dr. Mary Hayes. The rate of cavities rise during this timeframe because teens may not have experienced cavities as kids and slack off with their dental hygiene. Don’t let teens let go of oral care habits, otherwise it may continue into adulthood.
Be in the Know About Baby Teeth
Primary teeth – AKA baby teeth – usually appear between 6 months and 1 year of age. Most kids have a full set for 20 primary teeth by the time they are 3, according to the ADA. See the chart below to learn which teeth break through at what ages:
Babies’ gums can get swollen and tender when teeth first come in. Teething rings and rubbing your child’s gums with wet gauze, a clean finger, or a small, cool spoon can be soothing, the ADA says. If baby is still fussy and seems to be in pain, contact your dentist or pediatrician.
There are some who believe it’s not necessary to keep baby teeth clean since they fall out anyway. This could not be further from the truth. Teeth are susceptible to decay as soon as they erupt from the gums. In fact, the ADA recommends that parents wipe babies’ gums clean just a few days after birth, using a clean, moist washcloth or moist gauze. Once teeth come in, use a smear of fluoride toothpaste to brush twice a day to ensure proper children’s dental care early.
Everyday Baby Items and Habits Can Lead to Tooth Problems
According to former AAPD President Philip H. Hunke, D.D.S.:
“Sippy cups were created to help children transition from a bottle to drinking from a regular cup, but they’re too often used for convenience. When kids sip for extended periods on sugared beverages, they’re exposed to a higher risk of decay. Sippy cups should only contain water unless it’s mealtime.”
The same goes for bottles, the experts at the American Dental Association say. Bottles should be used only for formula, milk or breast milk – not juice.
Pacifiers are another culprit behind tooth decay in young children. The ADA warns that pacifiers dipped in sugar, honey, or juice can lead to decay. Also, parents who clean a pacifier in their own mouths can transfer the bacteria in their saliva to the baby.
Thumbsucking can also cause problems for children’s dental care, especially after permanent teeth start come in. It can cause changes in the roof of the mouth and cause issues with the proper growth of the mouth and alignment of teeth.
Children usually stop thumbsucking between 2 and 4 years old, but if you notice changes with your child’s baby teeth that could be related, consult your dentist.
Act as Your Children’s Dental Care Advocate
Kids – especially young children – cannot always express what they are feeling. Parents must act as an advocate during their children’s dental care; ensuring they get the treatment they need, despite fear of the dentist.
If your child gets anxious at the thought of visiting the dentist, know that they (and you) are not alone. Dentistry Today cites 19.5 percent of school-age children are afraid of the dentist. As the staff at Parents magazine write:
“…from a child’s point of view, a trip to the dentist can be a scary event — lying on a chair in an unfamiliar room filled with unfamiliar noises and objects, all while a stranger is poking cold, metallic, and unusual instruments in his mouth.”
Kids with dental anxiety can be problem patients for dentists. Don’t set your child up for a panicked visit by mentioning words like “shot,” “hurt” or “pain,” Parents suggest. At the same time, make sure you are not projecting your own fears of the dentist onto your child. Keep calm and maintain a positive attitude to help your child feel at ease.
No matter how much time you spend talking up the dentist before the appointment, kids are kids. Fussing and tantrums happen, and pediatric dentists have seen it all. Let the children’s dental care professionals guide you on how to handle your child when fear gets the best of them, according to Parents. They may advise you to hold your child’s hand or keep your distance until the procedure or examination ends.
The worst thing you could do is stop the appointment at the first sign that your child will not cooperate. Instead, take a deep breath and assess why your child feels upset. Are they truly afraid? Are they trying to test the situation? Discuss with the dentist and then work together to keep the visit going, otherwise the next appointment will be that much harder.
Make Brushing and Flossing Fun, But Be Firm
The AAPD states that parents should brush their children’s teeth until the age of 8, and floss them until they turn 10 years old, but that can become a tough job when kids don’t cooperate. Thus, the best way to instill healthy children’s dental care habits at home is to make them fun!
Instead of just setting a timer and supervising, make brushing a two-minute event twice a day. Listen to your child’s favorite song as you brush together or try one from the ADA’s tooth-brushing playlist.
Other tips include telling stories about brushing, making brushing a family affair, watching kids’ TV shows featuring characters who brush their teeth, and rewarding good, consistent brushing behavior.
Additionally, the team at Colgate suggests letting your child pick out his or her own fun toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
While it is important to connect tooth brushing with fun, it’s equally necessary to remain firm. Don’t let a regular tooth-brushing schedule fall by the wayside just because your family is on vacation or you had a long day. Be firm and keep to the routine.
Finally, don’t forget about flossing! Flossing regularly isn’t optional for children’s dental care– not even for kids with baby teeth. As pediatric dentist Dr. Levene Harvell told Parents magazine:
“I can’t tell you how many parents think that flossing is something you do when the permanent teeth come in. But you want to start as soon as the teeth are touching each other. No matter how well you brush your child’s teeth, if they are touching you’re not going to be able to get all the food or plaque out.”
Encourage flossing from baby teeth and beyond to ensure your child’s mouth is healthy and clean.
Understand Fluoride and Other Common Children’s Dental Care Terms
There are some concerns surrounding the role of fluoride toothpaste and fluoridated drinking water in children’s dental care. However, fluoride is one of the best and safest ways to prevent cavities in children and adults. Dr. Brittany Seymour, Assistant Professor of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, explains that fluoride protects teeth by making enamel stronger and resistant to the acid produced by bacteria in the mouth. This reduces the risk for cavities and can reverse early signs of tooth decay.
Fluoride in water has been named one of the top public health achievements of the 20th century. According to Dr. Seymour, fluoridated water is an easy, inexpensive beverage for kids. It’s important to remember that fluoride is natural and is found at some level in all natural water sources.
Dr. Seymour adds that drinking water with fluoride only complements the work done by fluoride toothpaste. Dental fluorosis – a cosmetic issue caused by too much fluoride – remains preventable by ensuring your child spits, rinses, and doesn’t swallow toothpaste after brushing.
Another children’s dental care term that parents should become familiar with is sealant. A sealant is a thin, protective coating made from plastic and other dental materials that covers the chewing surface of the back teeth, or molars. Sealants help stop cavities from forming on the hard-to-brush back teeth and even stop early decay from becoming a full-blown cavity.
Malocclusion, or bad bite, occurs when teeth are crooked, crowded, or out of alignment, or when the jaws don’t meet properly. This may become noticeable around the ages of 6-12, when children’s permanent teeth come in. If not treated early (think orthodontics and braces), bad bite impacts eating and speaking, affects proper development of the jaws, and leaves protruding teeth at risk for chips and fractures.
Don’t Jump into Pulling a Wiggly Tooth
Wiggly baby teeth are a hallmark of childhood. Baby teeth get loose and fall out to make room for permanent adult teeth. Sometimes a wiggly tooth bothers a child before it comes out on its own – so how do you know when to pull and when to let it be?
According to Colgate, the first teeth to fall out are the first to come in. Usually that’s the two front teeth. Once the permanent tooth starts coming in, the baby tooth’s roots dissolve until it becomes loose enough to fall out painlessly and with very little blood. Pulling before a baby tooth is ready can be painful and bloodier than necessary. Rather, if you and your child really want the tooth out, let him or her wiggle it gently until it comes out on its own. When it does, make sure your child leaves the tooth under the pillow for the Tooth Fairy!
Sometimes baby teeth are knocked loose when kids are playing or fall. Never pull a tooth that’s been knocked loose. Visit your child’s dentist to avoid infection and damage to the incoming adult tooth.
When children lose baby teeth prematurely, your dentist may recommend using a space maintainer to hold the spot for a permanent tooth. This prevents permanent teeth from erupting and taking root in the wrong area!
Teach Your Children About Good Nutrition
The No. 1 rule when it comes to nutrition and healthy teeth remains limiting sugar intake. This can be especially difficult during holidays centered on sweets, like Halloween and Easter. Oral-B shares ways some parents reduce the effects of sugar on children’s dental care:
- Save sugary treats for after mealtime. This is the time when saliva produced in the mouth is at its peak and helps protect children’s teeth.
- Store excess candy in sealed bags and firmly establish set times for when your child can have treat.
- Floss. It removes hard candy particles. If this is a battle, consider flossers featuring your child’s favorite character to make flossing fun.
- Encourage kids to drink more water, which helps flush the sugar and prevents tooth decay.
It is also helpful to focus on foods that build strong teeth. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry claims cheese is one of the healthiest snacks for kids’ teeth. The dairy product not only provides much-needed calcium, it also stimulates the salivary glands to clear the mouth of food debris and protect teeth from acids, disrupting the formation of cavities.
Other foods that promote well-rounded children’s dental care include lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
Be on the Lookout for Gingivitis and Teeth Grinding
If you are prone to gingivitis, AKA gum disease, your child could be too. The experts at the nonprofit pediatric health system Nemours advise parents to contact the dentist at the first sign of pain when your child is brushing or flossing to prevent gum disease or cavities from becoming worse.
Kids can also be susceptible to bruxism – teeth grinding or jaw clenching. Children may grind their teeth because their jaws aren’t properly aligned, or in response to pain from teething or earaches. It often occurs during deep sleep or when children experience stress.
While many children may outgrow bruxism with little or no lasting damage, severe cases can chip teeth, wear down tooth enamel, and cause painful jaw problems, such as temporomandibular joint disease (TMJ). Carefully observing the problem at home and regular dental visits helps keep bruxism in check until it is outgrown or treated with a special night guard.
Have a Plan for Children’s Dental Care Emergencies
It’s all fun and games until someone loses a tooth. Accidents happen! Ensure you have a plan for any emergencies related to your children’s dental care.
Ideally, the pediatric dental office you choose offers emergency service. Make sure you have your dentist’s card on hand so you can contact the office whenever an issue arises. Remain prepared and distribute this information to your kids’ coaches and school staff so they take appropriate actions if mishaps occur at soccer games or on the playground.
And if your child does play sports, consider investing in a mouthguard to cushion blows to the mouth and prevent some dental emergencies.
For any questions, contact your nearest Columbia Dental office. At Columbia Dental, all of our locations across Connecticut provide complete oral care for the entire family. Plus, we offer convenient hours, so your kids receive the proper children’s dental care when it fits your schedule. Call us at 860-645-0111 or visit our website to learn more today.