Caring for your children’s teeth is a key part of their overall health and wellbeing. Many parents wonder when to start dental care for their children. It actually should start well before the first tooth appears.
Infant’s gums should be cleaned with a soft wet washcloth even before teething begins. Once your child’s teeth erupt, you can use a finger toothbrush or a very soft child’s toothbrush made especially for infants. Toothpaste is not necessary until your child is able to spit out, but you can use non-fluoridated flavored baby toothpaste to get your child used to brushing with toothpaste.
Once children’s teeth begin to come in, it is imperative that you do not allow children to fall asleep with milk left in their mouth. Some babies fall asleep without even swallowing the last sip of milk. This is a bad practice because milk contains a sugar called lactose, which can cause cavities even in very young children.
Toddlers and Older Kids
In older toddlers, it is important that they are not allowed to walk around constantly taking sips of milk or even watered down juice from a sippy cup. Water is the only drink that should be given in between meals. You need to brush your child’s teeth after meals and after any sugary snack including drinks. You may want to make a practice of carrying a clean toothbrush and water in the car for when your children are the recipients of unexpected candy after a visit to the bank or other stores.
Older kids need to know that dental floss must be used every day. Let your children see you using dental floss to clean your own teeth often. Kids learn better from what they see you do than from what you tell them to do.
First Dental Visit
The American Dental Association recommends that all children have their first dental visit by age one unless there are concerns earlier. You cannot bring your child to the dentist too early, but you can bring your child too late. Many parents wait until a child is 3 years old or when they notice brown spots or broken teeth. If your child complains that their mouth hurts when they eat, they should visit the dentist.
When you bring your one year old to the dentist, you are promoting a lifelong habit of good oral hygiene. Many pediatric and family dentists endeavor to create a fun and comforting environment where kids learn the best ways to take care of their teeth. It is the dentist’s goal to prevent cavities and other dental problems by educating kids and their parents long before a problem has a chance to start.
Before your child’s first dental visit, it is good to talk to your child about what to expect. By bringing your child for their first dental visit before they have a problem, their visit can be fun. They can enjoy a ride up and down in the dental chair and have a gentle exam and tooth cleaning. This visit is an opportunity for the parents to ask questions about their child’s nutrition and oral care. The child’s job is to meet the dentist and to get used to what will happen during visits to the dentist.
When families are proactive about children’s dental health, all that dentists would have to do is examine, clean and straighten your child’s teeth. Fillings, crowns, implants and dentures would become a thing of the past.
Dr. Sherri Alpert is a general dentist with over 20 years of experience in all aspects of family dental care including emergency dental care and pediatric dentistry. She has written two children’s book to teach children about dental care. She is the owner of Dental Wellness of Suffern, located at 2 Executive Blvd., Suite 307, in Suffern. For more information, call 918-1801 or go to DentalWellnessOfSuffern.com.