Oral hygiene is important. And perhaps more so for children, as oral health plays a role in development in addition to health and wellness. Most parents are quick to schedule pediatrician visits, but dentist visits are less likely. The last couple of decades have seen a rise in tooth decay among young children, according to a 2014 AAPD report. The instinct is to largely ignore cavities in young children, as baby teeth will fall out. However, those baby teeth are important in determining oral health and hygiene. The upside is that tooth decay is preventable. In order to start a healthy oral hygiene habit as soon as possible, consider the following suggestions.
Schedule dentist visits early and often
Regular check-ups are important, as well as cleanings. The earlier you start, the more likely the habit is to stick. According to most dental health associations, the simplest way to prevent tooth decay is to take a child to a pediatric dentist before their first birthday. The habit isn’t the only thing you are trying to create; as well, you want your child to form a relationship with your dentist in order to prevent other oral hygiene issues throughout the lifespan. These early visits can be the difference between painful cavities and healthy dental habits.
Don’t share utensils
From the moment a baby can do it, they will put things in their mouth. This certainly changes as we age, but cavity-causing bacteria (like Streptococcus mutans) are lurking anywhere saliva is shared. So before you share pacifiers or play airplane by eating from the spoon first, consider that you are transferring bacteria from your mouth into theirs. This speaks to the importance of oral health for the whole family. Pediatric dentists suggest wiping the gums with a soft cloth in order to remove bacteria. This also gets your child used to something being in their mouth with the intention of cleaning, setting up a behavior for future toothbrush use.
Select the appropriate oral hygiene products
The best possible suggestion here is to always consult with your pediatric dentist or do the research yourself before deciding on oral hygiene products. The ADA recommends using fluoride toothpaste once a baby grows in her first tooth. However, that doesn’t mean you have to. While fluoride toothpastes have been associated with strengthening teeth, I want to stress that the decision about what your baby or small child uses is ultimately up to you. What you want to make sure you are doing is lowering the possibility of tooth decay and putting into place positive oral health habits.
Brushing is a lifelong habit if you start it early enough. While it is important for children to learn how to brush their teeth on their own, parents should do the actual brushing for young children. A soft-bristled toothbrush and two minutes, twice a day, should be sufficient. After all, the goal is to remove plaque and prevent tooth decay.
This might be one of the most common, and overlooked, vectors for tooth decay. Since bacteria feed on sugar, producing acid waste in the process, sweets are notoriously bad for tooth decay. As such, it is important to have less sugary foods in your child’s diet. If keeping out sugary snacks proves too difficult, then consider making sugary foods and drinks something your child eats infrequently. If your son or daughter spends all day snacking on sugar, then the acid waste from bacteria feeding on sugar is in constant supply. If possible, stress eating fresh fruits and vegetables that are on the crunchy side, as they help reduce plaque.
Make oral hygiene a priority
Tooth decay is a real problem in young children. However, there are some simple and easy ways to make sure your child has healthy oral hygiene. The process starts with making sure to schedule regular cleanings with a pediatric dentist. Be careful of shared utensils and make sure that brushing your teeth becomes a regular occurrence in your household. Oral hygiene is equal parts habit and tools, so selecting the right oral health accessories comes down to what is best for your child. Lastly, cut down on those sugary treats; your child might not like it today, but they will appreciate it later.