There is no such thing as too early to begin caring for your children’s teeth, and that includes before their teeth are even visible. Protecting your child’s teeth begins at the start of their lives, and should continue to be encouraged long after your children are able to brush and floss on their own.
The impact of good dental hygiene on young children is essential for a number of reasons, the most important of which is preventing tooth decay. Nearly 40 percent of American children suffer from tooth decay before they reach kindergarten. Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children in the country.
Tooth decay does more than create toothaches for young children – it also can have a significant impact on their development in other ways. Children suffering from tooth decay may have difficulty eating, preventing them from getting essential nourishment they need for their growth and mental development. Losing teeth early to decay also can impact the development of permanent teeth, resulting in the need for extensive orthodontic work as the child gets older. Children who are missing teeth because of decay may also have difficulty with their speech and become self-conscious about their appearance, leading to speech delays and emotional issues. All of this makes oral health extremely important for parents to pay attention to, even in infants.
Parents should begin cleaning their children’s gums gently with a washcloth or gauze before their teeth begin to emerge. Infants should be kept away from juice or other sugary drinks. Children under age 1 also should see a pediatric dentist as soon as possible for their first checkups. Parents should be careful not to allow their infants to eat anything other than healthy foods, and children should be switched from bottles to cups after their first birthday.
As teeth emerge and children reach the toddler stage, parents should begin to model good oral hygiene behaviors and encourage their children to start brushing their teeth with a soft-bristled brush and fluoride-free toothpaste. This is the time to begin establishing a regular brushing routine in the morning and before bedtime, as well. By the time children start school, they should be brushing and flossing on their own, but parents should continue to encourage them to maintain good habits.
In particular, parents should review their children’s school menu and recommend the most balanced choices to promote healthy eating. School-aged children also should be encouraged to wear properly fitted mouth guards during PE classes or after-school sports. At every stage of children’s development, they should continue to visit the pediatric dentist on a regular basis.
Proper care of your children’s teeth begins well before they come in, and it can help your children avoid all manner of problems as they get older. The following checklist illustrates everything parents need to know as their children enter each stage of their development. Follow it and you’ll ensure your children practice proper oral hygiene and establish good habits for the rest of their lives.
Dr. Sheila Harris is the owner of Natomas Crossing Dental Care, a leading dental practice in Sacramento, California. Since graduating from Northwestern University School of Dentistry, she has become one of the top general dentists in Sacramento and is a proud member of several dental organizations.
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