As a parent, your top priority is keeping your child healthy. So, you fill her plate with plenty of vegetables, send her to bed on time and schedule regular check-ups with her pediatrician. But are you as diligent about good dental health?
A lifetime of good dental health begins with baby teeth. Many people think that baby teeth don’t matter as much as adult teeth. After all, they are going to fall out anyway, right?
Even if their permanent teeth won’t show up for years to come, get your child in the routine of brushing twice a day and flossing daily. That way, when those adult teeth come in, they will already be in the habit of taking care of them. Here are a few tips to help get you started:
Set a good example
Children pick up the behaviors of those around them, good or bad. If your child sees you neglect your teeth or regularly consume sugary foods and beverages that promote tooth decay, chances are, he or she will, too. Instead, make it a point to practice good dental health habits in front of him or her, like drinking lots of water and flossing after meals. You may even want to make brushing a shared activity, so they get a better idea of how to brush and for how long.
Schedule regular dentist appointments
Ideally, your child’s first dentist appointment in our office should be between her second and third birthdays, but if you’ve already missed that cutoff, schedule a check-up as soon as possible.
Going to the dentist can be scary, so talk to your child about the dentist’s role and what to expect from the appointment. And don’t ever make threats about scary dental procedures if your child doesn’t comply with her oral care routine. That will only create unnecessary distress and resistance when it comes time for her dental check-up. Plus, kids who fear the dentist may be more likely to avoid seeing the dentist as adults.
Get your children involved
If it’s a battle to get your child to brush and floss every night, try letting them choose their own toothbrushes, toothpaste and even flavored mouthwashes. Making them feel a part of the decision-making process will improve the odds that they will follow through with their routine. There are plenty of kid-friendly products that can make brushing more fun, and your child will be more excited about using a tool he or she helped pick out. The next time you’re at the store, go to the dental aisle and head straight to the kids’ section. Colorful toothbrush designs with their favorite cartoon characters and enticing toothpaste flavors will make it feel like picking out a new toy and not a toothbrush.
Encourage a healthy diet
Picky eating can put your child at risk for nutritional deficiencies that affect healthy growth, but eating the wrong foods is also harmful for oral health. In fact, a diet high in processed foods and sugar contributes to tooth decay and tooth loss because those foods create an acidic environment in the mouth. Keep a variety of healthy snacks on hand, like freshly-cut fruits, veggies and low-fat dairy products, so your child will always have wholesome options. Reserve sugary beverages and foods for special occasions, and start rewarding your child’s good behaviors with things other than food or treats, such as a trip to the movies or reading a book before bedtime.
Discourage thumb-sucking after the preschool years
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), it is perfectly normal for infants and toddlers to suck on their thumbs and fingers. Most children abandon this behavior by the time they are in preschool; however, if a child persists for a longer period, it could cause dental development problems. Prolonged thumb-sucking can cause the bite to become distorted and can even cause problems with the jaw. Once a child has reached the age where he or she can understand what is at stake, parents can encourage them to change the behavior and support them in their efforts. It might be useful for the family dentist to explain the problems thumb-sucking can cause.
Helping children form good dental health habits early in life can play a crucial part in their overall well-being for life. Modeling good oral hygiene and reinforcing good habits with praise, encouragement, and incentives are time-tested strategies for success.