According to the CDC, 20% of elementary-age children have untreated tooth decay, and as they age, their risk for oral health problems may grow unless they learn healthy dental habits now. Parents significantly influence healthy habit development and largely shape their children's attitudes toward their teeth and gums.
Board Certified Pediatric and Family Dentist Dr. Leena Grewall, offers the following 6 tips to set your children up so that they can have a healthy mouth for a lifetime.
1. Lead by example
From the moment babies open their eyes, their caregivers set an example for how to smile, speak, and brush teeth. Make brushing and flossing your teeth a visible good habit in your home. As your children grow, they will look forward to being able to brush their teeth and floss.
This sets the stage for positive feelings around brushing rather than it feeling like a chore.
2. Start early
Before your child has teeth, you can gently clean the gums with a soft cloth, and once that first tooth comes in, it's time to start a regular brushing regimen. This not only helps prevent decay in those baby teeth, but it normalizes brushing so that when your child is old enough, brushing just feels like the practical thing to do.
As soon as your child's teeth touch each other, it's time to start flossing. This happens typically one tooth at a time, which makes it easier for your child. It only takes a second to floss two teeth that touch, and as more teeth touch each other, the time goes up slowly.
Remember to speak with your child about gum health instead of focusing on the teeth. You need healthy gums to keep healthy teeth. According to the CDC, nearly half of people in the U.S. have some gum disease, demonstrating that we need to focus on the importance of gum health.
3. Encourage healthy eating habits
Brushing and flossing are inarguably the most important things your children can do at home to keep their teeth healthy, but what they eat and drink also plays a large role. As a parent of young children, you have the unique ability to shape their eating habits positively into adulthood. Consider the following:
- Limiting juice and other sugary drinks
- Making children aware of how candy can harm teeth
- Choosing candy that doesn't stick to teeth (e.g., taffies, caramels, and shiny candy do stick)
- Encouraging whole fruit like salmonberries, blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries instead of candy
- Encouraging your child to rinse with water after a meal if brushing is not an option
- Discouraging grazing between meals, which increases the amount of time that acid stays on the teeth
4.Get dental sealants
Dental sealants protect permanent teeth from decay during those critical years when your child learns how to clean their back teeth properly. Sealants are applied after a professional cleaning. It is a thin, clear, impenetrable lacquer painted onto the teeth.
5. Get fluoride treatments
Fluoride treatments help prevent cavities by strengthening the hard, outer shell of teeth, and they may even reverse very early cavities that have just started to develop. A thin layer of fluoride varnish is painted on your child’s teeth. It’s simple and painless.
6. Schedule regular dental checkups
Keeping you and your child's scheduled dental appointments every six months demonstrates to your child that tooth and gum health is essential. Visits become routine, and children carry this habit into adulthood, setting them up for a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. Children should have their first visit by the time their first tooth comes in to ensure proper growth and development.