Could there be anything more precious than your child's smile?
Preserving and protecting that smile should be on the top of your list of priorities, yet parents often overlook oral health. It’s understandable; worrying about preventing cavities can get away from you.
Besides, they’re just baby teeth, right? Wrong.
Even baby teeth are important. Baby teeth serve as spacers to maintain the proper alignment for permanent teeth. What’s more, children with healthy mouths chew more easily and gain more nutrients from the foods they eat. They learn to speak more quickly and clearly. Plus, a healthy mouth is more attractive, giving children confidence in their appearance.
If you’re not taking the best care of your child’s teeth, you’re not alone. For the first time in 40 years, dentists are seeing an increased number of children with multiple cavities, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Along with this alarming trend is an increased number of children who require hospital admittance and general anesthesia to treat their extensive cavities.
Teaching your child proper oral care at a young age is an investment in his or her health. To mark Children’s Dental Health Month in February, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry offers this advice:
• Attack plaque. Plaque is a sticky film of germs that forms on teeth after eating or drinking, which is why brushing twice a day is so important. To ensure children’s teeth are properly brushed, parents of toddlers should do it for them with a soft brush by using a circular or wiggling motion on all tooth surfaces, especially where the tooth meets the gums. Even once kids are old enough to do their own brushing, parents should watch over the process until children are 8 years old.
• Be smart at bedtime. Do not nurse a young child to sleep or put him to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, juice, or any sweetened liquid. While a child sleeps, any remaining liquid in the mouth feeds bacteria that produce acids and attack the teeth. Protect your child from severe tooth decay by brushing teeth before bedtime. Also, never dip a pacifier in sugar or honey.
• Use the right tools. Clean baby’s gums regularly with a clean gauze pad even as teeth erupt. This will accustom your baby to this routine, plus reduce the bacteria in your child’s mouth. For toddlers, use a soft-bristled brush with only a smear of toothpaste so that they don’t swallow it. Once children can spit, use a pea-sized portion of toothpaste so they don’t absorb too much fluoride. Remember to replace toothbrushes every three to four months, sooner if the bristles are worn.
• Floss daily. It’s important to remove plaque from between the teeth and under the gum line before it hardens into tartar. Flossing removes food and plaque between teeth that brushing misses. You should floss for your children beginning at age 4. By the time they turn 8, most kids can floss for themselves.
• Eat healthy. Balanced diets help teeth and gums develop properly. But diets high in certain kinds of carbohydrates, such as sugar and starches, may place your child at dental risk. Limit starchy or sugary foods, which produce plaque acids that cause tooth decay.
• Set a good example. Taking care of your own teeth sends a message that oral health is important. Use products that contain fluoride, and visit the dentist once or twice a year.