Good oral health is something that requires daily attention. As a parent, you work consistently to help your kids maintain good oral health and learn habits that will protect them from tooth decay and the other consequences of poor oral hygiene.
Every day is important when it comes to teaching your children about oral health, but it is also good to really dig into the reasons why you work so hard to empower your kids with knowledge about proper oral care.
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. This provides a great opportunity for you to put some extra emphasis on teaching good oral care habits to your kids – and helping them understand the importance of the daily oral care tasks you have them complete.
When Does Oral Healthcare Start for Kids?
Many people don't realize it, but your child's baby teeth are at risk for decay as soon as they appear! For this reason, The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends seeing a pediatric dentist either by their first birthday or after their first tooth shows up. It's typically a quick appointment to make sure everything is OK, but it's still important to make sure their smile is progressing properly. At the same time, don't wait until that first appointment to take your child's oral health into your own hands—literally. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends cleaning your baby's mouth during the first few days after birth by wiping the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth.
As a parent, the responsibility falls on you to brush your children's teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste until you're comfortable they can handle it on their own. Initially, use just a smear or an amount equal to a grain of rice. Later for kids 3-6 years of age, a pea-sized amount should be just right. It's common for kids to be brushing their teeth independently by age 6, and flossing independently by age 10.
In addition to regular dental visits, The American Association of Orthodontists recommends an orthodontic consultation for braces by age seven. This is important because a healthy, straight smile can impact kids' health in multiple ways1:
- Better appearance can lead to improved self-esteem and emotional well-being.
- A properly aligned bite can lead to improved jaw and facial development.
- An uneven bite can interfere with chewing and speaking and impact tooth enamel.
- Straight teeth are easier to clean, reducing tooth decay and gum disease.
It may be hard, but making sure kids have good oral hygiene habits is worth the effort. The Smile Generation makes it a little easier by helping you find trusted, pediatric dentists near you who specialize in kids' dentistry. In addition to dental school, Smile Generation-trusted pediatric dentists go through an additional two years of training in child psychology, behavior management and more. Making sure your kids first experience at the dentist is a positive one can go a long way towards a lifetime of good oral health.
Ultimately, it's important to remember that your children's best role model in all of this is YOU. One of the best ways to help your child grow up with good oral health habits (and other good habits) is to make sure you model them yourself! Combined with regular dental visits, you'll be putting them on the right track to having a smile they'll love the rest of their lives!
Good oral health habits are about so much more than having a beautiful smile. As a parent, you want your child to have a bright smile. But the way your child’s teeth look on the surface is a small part of the benefits that come with good oral health habits. Good oral health habits can also help your child avoid painful tooth decay, gum disease, and enjoy a lifetime healthy smile.
Empowering our children with knowledge about the importance of good oral health habits will help them continue those habits into adolescence and adulthood. National Children's Dental Health Month is about highlighting those habits, empowering young minds about the importance of daily oral care tasks, and supporting parents in their efforts to teach good oral health habits.
Some of the good oral health habits that are highlighted during February national children dental health month include:
- Brushing twice daily
- Flossing at least once per day
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting routine care at the dentist
Impact of Good Oral Health Habits from a Young Age
The importance of good oral health habits from a young age cannot be emphasized enough. Poor oral health can come with serious short-term and long-term consequences. Teaching good oral health habits from a young age can help protect your child from those consequences now and in the future.
Consequences of Poor Oral Health
In the short-term, poor oral health can lead to cavities and infections, which make it difficult for kids to do everyday tasks like eating, speaking, and concentrating at school. The potential long-term consequences of poor oral health are surprising. Research shows that children with poor oral health are more likely to miss school and struggle with grades than those with good oral health. The pain caused by cavities can make it difficult to concentrate, and potential infections from poor oral hygiene can lead to illness.
How Negative Oral Health Consequences Develop
Every day, your children eat food have drinks that can stain the surface of their teeth and leave behind bacteria. Without any intervention, the food particles and bacteria can lead to a buildup of plaque and tartar.
Plaque and tartar are two substances that can build up on your child’s teeth because of bacteria. Plaque is a film that can make your child’s teeth look dull and discolored. Tartar is plaque that has hardened over time. Both of these substances can negatively impact the way your child’s teeth look and lead to problems like decay and gum disease.
Good Oral Health Habits Protect Your Child’s Gums, Teeth, and Overall Health
Teaching good oral health habits from an early age will protect your child’s smile and overall health. Brushing and flossing are two simple habits that can remove food particles, surface stains, and bacteria. The process of brushing and flossing each day prevents the buildup of bacteria that can cause issues like cavities and gum infections.
Brushing and flossing daily are habits that will help keep the buildup of plaque and tartar under control. However, your children will likely still develop some plaque and tartar – even with excellent oral habits – which is an important reason to make going to the dentist for routine care a priority from the very beginning.
Teaching your child good oral habits from an early age – even before they have teeth – will help ingrain those good habits in your child. Brushing and flossing become part of the rhythm of life for your child. Going to the dentist at least twice per year for a check is normal and expected. As a parent, you have the ability to set your child up with healthy lifetime oral care habits.
Empower Your Children with Knowledge
National Children's Dental Health Month is also a time to think about empowering your kids with knowledge about oral health and care. You can provide your children with some empowering choices to help them feel like they are part of the process – instead of simply being told what to do. A simple first step is to let your child choose a new toothbrush and toothpaste. That process can help your child get excited about oral care and provide you with an easy way to talk to your child about proper dental hygiene.
Empowered kids are those who feel like they are part of something. When it comes to oral health, you can empower your kids by providing them with knowledge. For example, a lot of kids enjoy science because it can be an interactive subject. Topics with a ‘gross factor’ are especially popular with kids. Tooth decay, plaque, tartar, and gum disease are all topics that can have an interesting gross factor for kids. Have some age-appropriate fun with the topics – you may be surprised at how excited your children get about improving their oral care habits.
You can also empower your kids with knowledge by letting them be part of your oral care routine. Dental health month can be a time to improve your own oral care routine and let your kids watch. Let your kids see you brush and floss each day. Offer to let them try out a ‘grown-up’ toothpaste to see what they think. Let your kids know when you are going to a routine dental appointment. If your kids are still at an age where they want to be just like you, use that to help your children learn about and develop good oral care habits.
Empower Your Children with a Smile
There is no debating the value of good oral habits when it comes to protecting your child’s teeth and health. Your child’s smile is also an important factor to consider during dental health month. A healthy smile can empower your child with the confidence to interact with others and smile without reservation.
By teaching your children good oral health habits, you empower them with the gift of a healthy smile. The habits that keep your child’s teeth healthy – brushing twice per day, flossing daily, keeping up with routine dental appointments, and eating a healthy diet – will also keep your child’s smile looking its best.
Setting Your Kids up for Success Caring for Their Oral Health
There are some basic steps you can take to set your kids up for success caring for their oral health. These steps include: starting early, prioritizing routine dental visits, and setting an example by caring for your own oral health.
You can start teaching your kids good oral care habits before they even have teeth. A simple way to do this is to go through the process of ‘brushing’ your baby’s teeth each morning and evening. This can be as simple as running a soft bristle brush with no toothpaste over your child’s gums or using a silicone finger toothbrush. When it is time to incorporate a real toothbrush and toothpaste, your child will already be accustomed to the process.
Prioritize Routine Dental Visits
You should prioritize and start early with visits to the dentist. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends taking children to that first dental appointment within six months of their first tooth and no later than their first birthday.
Making routine dental appointments a priority when your child is young will let the dentist catch and address problems early on. In addition, your child will grow accustomed to visiting the dentist who will make future visits easier as your child grows.
Set an Example by Caring for Your Own Oral Health
Another way to set your kids up for success caring for their oral health is to set an example by caring for your own oral health. Let your kids see you brushing and flossing your teeth. Point out the foods you eat that are good for your teeth and your body. Talk about going to the dentist and tell your kids details of your routine dental appointments. You have the opportunity to provide your kids with a great example of what it means to properly care for your oral health.
When Should My Child See an Orthodontist?
Final Thoughts on Good Oral Health Habits
Teaching your kids good oral health habits should be a priority during Children’s Dental Health Month and all throughout the year. Along with your child’s dentist, you can make a real difference in your child’s oral care habits and health. If you do not have a dentist who currently sees your child, but finding one at the top of your list for Children’s Dental Health Month.
Smile Generation has an easy-to-use tool to help you find a local, trusted dentist for your child. You can search for a pediatric dentist in your area, and rest assured that the options available through Smile Generation can provide your child with the dental care they need.
- Vital Signs: Dental Sealant Use and Untreated Tooth Decay Among U.S. School-Aged Children