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Setting The Stage For Terrific Teeth: How To Avoid Bad Dental Habits In Children

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It can be difficult to wrestle a one year old down in order to get their teeth brushed, and it can be even more difficult to stop baby habits in order to make way for more adult behavior. However, it's essential that parents begin a good oral health regimen with kids from the very first tooth. It sets the tone for dental health throughout childhood, and even into adult years. Here are some common mistakes that parents make and how you can avoid them in order to keep your kid's teeth looking and feeling great.

1. Sending Junior to bed with a bottle.

Little babies need nourishment at night, but by the time a child is one year old, they should not need a bottle in order to get to and stay asleep. It's damaging to a baby's teeth to send them to bed with a bottle because once they're asleep, those teeth will be exposed to the sugars in the milk, and those sugars will not be brushed away for at least several hours as the baby sleeps. It's best to train young kids to go to sleep without needing the comfort of the bottle. If you are breastfeeding, the same logic applies. Once a child's teeth are brushed, they should stay clean until bedtime. 

2. Extending the use of the thumb and pacifier.

Some babies suck thumbs and fingers; others find comfort in pacifiers. Both of these are popular with infants and little toddlers because sucking is a comforting reflex. Most children can suck the thumb or the pacifier for several years without negative consequences to the jaw and teeth. However, once the baby teeth start to become loose and fall out, it's time to sever the connection between comfort and sucking. A good time to start working on this is usually between age two and age four. You don't want the position of permanent teeth to be altered by aggressive sucking. 

It's easy to break the habit of using a pacifier. You can take them away, or cut a hole in the nipple so that they don't work very well. You child may even want to help you throw them out. 

You can help break the cycle of sucking the thumb by:

  • providing alternative methods of comfort. Try using calm music, books, cuddles, or security blankets to help children comfort themselves.
  • praising the child when he or she uses a better comfort method. When you see your toddler using a blanket instead of sucking their thumb when upset, say how proud you are.
  • refraining from nagging or scolding. Guilt and feeling bad will only make the child crave comfort more, and they will also feel less secure about finding alternative comfort in you if there is fear of reproach.
  • talking to your family dentist about a reward system that will help to break the habit. For example, maybe if your child goes a week, four weeks, or two months without sucking his or her thumb, a prize from you or from the dentist is in order.

3. Filling the sippy cup with liquid that's not water.

An easy way to keep your kid hydrated during the day is to allow them continual access to a water bottle or sippy cup so that you don't have to worry about getting them a drink when they are thirsty. This is great, as long as the bottle or cup is for water only.

Milk, juice, and soda are high in sugars and are okay in moderation, supervised by a parent. But, if the sippy cup is a permanent fixture in your child's hand and mouth, it's time to make a change. The constant flow of juice increases both acid and sugar in the mouth, and prevents saliva from washing over the teeth to clean them between drinks. Basically, the sugary environment will stay in your child's mouth all day as he or she takes little drinks here and there. Water should be the drink of choice, or drinks should be reserved for meal times. Going here can help you find more information.