Over the years I have had numerous questions regarding dental care for babies, infants, and young children from families in our practice. My goal for every patient is to provide comprehensive dental care at all stages in life. So when I can start addressing questions and concerns at a very young age, I am able to educate both children and parents on how important dental hygiene is and start the entire family on a path to perfect dental health for the rest of their lives!
“When should I bring my child in for their first visit?”
First visits for children are such a crucial time to provide a positive experience and start the habit of good dental hygiene. We support the recommendation from the American Association for Pediatric Dentistry that a baby should come to the dentist for their first visit when the first tooth erupts or when they reach age 1 — whichever comes first. At your child’s first dental visit, we try to keep it easy and fun! A dental visit for a little one should be positive and all smiles (from you too, parents)! Typically, what we will discuss includes current homecare habits regarding toothbrushing, gum stimulation, bottle habits, and pacifier habits, and our recommendations if any habit needs an adjustment. My hygienist and I will examine the outside of your child’s face and inside of their mouth to ensure there is nothing abnormal with their anatomy. We both will also check on the health of the existing gum tissue and teeth (if present). When looking at these areas, we want to see pink healthy gum tissue without any red irritation or bleeding. For teeth, we hope to see shiny, smooth, and clean teeth with good spacing. Every mouth develops differently, so I monitor the growth and development of your child’s mouth at each visit.
“It’s just a baby tooth! He’s going to lose it anyway, can we just pull it out? It would cost less.”
I hear this weekly! In fact, baby teeth are crucial to the development of the bone structure in the mouth for children as they develop physically, not to mention they hold the place in the bone for adult teeth to develop and erupt. In fact, many don’t know that baby teeth are actually softer and more susceptible to cavities than adult teeth and have been identified as one of the top causes of children missing school, due to dental pain. Children should never have to experience this kind of pain, so regular visits at least every 6 months can help to prevent this with baby teeth!
As your child ages, we hone in on good habits for their growing bodies and mouths. The best habits always start at a young age and, as I have learned as a mom of two, children see everything we do! They will watch you for guidance on their dental homecare habits and mimic them without you even knowing. Brushing twice a day for 2 minutes each time helps to remove any bacteria, sugars, and acids from the tooth surface. This prevents long term damage like tooth pain or loss for baby AND adult teeth! And children actually need you to brush their teeth (or at least double check them) until the age of 10, when their dexterity is capable of doing so themselves. My favorite website resource for parents and kids, with tips, tricks, and fun activities is http://www.2min2x.org/
“Well, I can definitely help them brush well—but do I really need to floss their baby teeth?”
The answer is YES! Especially when teeth touch, but in general you want to get children used to cleaning the space between the teeth. This is the most common area for cavities to form, and the easiest way to avoid this is to floss regularly. The wonderful thing about toothbrushes, floss and other dental products is that there are so many options now! Between electric toothbrushes that play music, flavored floss picks shaped like dinosaurs, and waterpiks—there are so many options out there to help your child to become comfortable with something that works for their dental homecare. For many small children, it’s so hard for them to wrap floss around their fingers, which makes the floss picks an AWESOME option for them to use! It’s also great for parents to use so your fingers don’t get bitten (ask me how I know!). There are so many fun colors, flavorings, and animals/shapes; I guarantee you will have fun picking them out together!
From toothbrush to toothpaste, you have probably noticed that there are so many products to choose from! For toothbrushes, we recommend a soft or extra soft toothbrush with a small, oval-shaped toothbrush head; soft will not hurt the gums and a small head can reach all the little places in those tiny mouths. There are even some really neat and fun electric children’s toothbrushes that have stickers and music to make them interactive. With toothpaste, it’s hard to pick something that you feel will clean little teeth well but that they won’t just eat right off of the toothbrush. For toddlers, it is often best to use a fluoride-free toothpaste until the child understands and demonstrates the difference between spitting and swallowing. Once this has happened, it’s a good time to transition them to a toothpaste containing fluoride. When looking at how much toothpaste to put on the brush, I recommend a dab of toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice. Once they have reached the age of understanding the difference between spitting and swallowing, you can transition to a pea-size of toothpaste. Goodness knows if you aren’t careful, there will be toothpaste coating the sink and the bathroom mirror (again, ask me how I know)!
When it comes to food for kids, it can be so hard to balance good nutritious meals with what the kids will actually eat. Every parent has that frustration of getting kids to eat their fruits and veggies! However, my general rule is to have juice and sugary treats with a meal. If your baby or child goes to bed with a bottle or sippy cup, make sure it contains only water. Milk, juice, or soda will coat the teeth in sugar and acid and can cause cavities to form. Regular water drinking, in general, can help to keep moisture in a child’s mouth and rinse off cavity-causing bacteria. Sports and energy drinks are often consumed during sporting events and activities, however they contain high sugar and acid levels. These will coat the teeth and leave them susceptible to bacteria and cavities. It’s good to limit these and encourage water intake instead!
Needless to say, there is so much to consider when it comes to our children and their dental health. Our primary jobs as parents are to protect them and keep them healthy, and the more you understand about their dental health, the easier it is to do!