There's more to this month than flowers, love notes and chocolates. February is also National Children's Dental Health Month! In honor of the occasion, we want to share some helpful thoughts on helping kids have healthier, happier smiles. It's well known that the sooner we can develop good habits, the easier it is to maintain them throughout our lives. That's why it is important that healthy habits start young. And helping your kids develop good oral health habits is more important than ever.
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.
How can I motivate my kids to brush their teeth?
Not surprisingly, as they get older, kids may have a love-hate relationship with good oral hygiene practices. Toothbrush battles are frustrating, but that is completely normal. So how do we make brushing, flossing (and our lives as parents) easier? Start by getting the right supplies. Kids need smaller brushes to fit their mouths. Even better, try getting one with their favorite cartoon character to add a little fun to their daily oral health regimen!
It's also important to make sure they treat their teeth well the rest of the day. That means eating more healthy snacks like fresh veggies and drinking less soda and sugary drinks. Quick tip for kids of all ages: drinking water helps rinse teeth between brushing sessions to keep plaque away!
To further encourage your kids to take care of their teeth, try some fun, interactive activities and videos. My Kid's Dentist Online has a great section of activity sheets here. If your child likes cartoons, videos like this one can be a fun way to show the importance of brushing!
Here are a few other tips, thanks to the American Dental Association2, that you can use to help your kids enjoy healthier, happier smiles:
- Don't share utensils with your child or “clean” a pacifier by putting it in your mouth. You may actually be transferring cavity-causing germs.
- Eat healthy and drink fluoridated water.
- Use fluoride toothpaste and have kids brush for 2 minutes, 2 times per day.
- Ask your dentist about dental sealants, which are a thin, protective coating that adheres to the chewing surface of the back teeth. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that school-age children (ages 6-11) without sealants have almost three times more cavities than those with sealants.2 (Note: while helpful, sealants are NOT a substitute for brushing and flossing!)3
When should my child see an orthodontist?
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!