Whether your child is a toddler or adolescent, semi-annual dental exams can help ensure healthy teeth and gums and alert you to potential dental issues. Fortunately, many dental problems and emergencies can be avoided through proper care and prevention. To help provide your child with a healthy smile, follow these guidelines:
The Dos and Don'ts of Oral Health for Children
1. DO establish good oral hygiene habits early: You may notice your child's first tooth erupt between 8-12 months of age. At this time, you may use a soft-bristled toothbrush to gently clean the teeth and gums after meals and at bedtime. Avoid using toothpaste until the child is old enough to spit it out, typically at age two or three. When your child reaches this age, it is time to teach him or her how to use a toothbrush.
It's best to use a toothpaste that is specifically made for toddlers. Adult supervision is recommended when your toddler brushes his or her teeth. Additionally, you may want to floss your child's teeth once a day, until he or she is old enough to safely do this alone. Most children can floss by themselves by about the age of 10.
2. DON'T allow your child to take a bottle of juice or milk to bed at night: This will bathe the teeth in sugar and possibly contribute to childhood tooth decay. If your child insists on a bedtime bottle, it should be filled with water only.
3. DO offer your child healthy between-meal snacks: Instead of sugary and sticky snacks, offer fresh fruits and vegetables. Munching on celery, carrot sticks and apples can help clean teeth. Calcium-enriched foods such as milk, cottage cheese and yogurt are also good choices to promote strong and healthy teeth.
4. DON'T encourage thumb-sucking or pacifier use beyond the age of three years: Although sucking on a thumb or pacifier may soothe your baby, prolonging this habit beyond the toddler stage may cause dental issues once teeth begin to erupt. Problems with your child's bite or jaw alignment may occur from constant pacifier use or thumb sucking. Experts agree that parents should praise children for not sucking their thumbs and reward them for refraining from the habit.
5. DO insist your child uses a mouth guard when playing sports: Mouth guards help protect the teeth, gums and mouth from impact during sports. Children who play basketball, baseball, football, hockey and soccer should always use mouth guards. Even non-contact sports such as gymnastics or tennis may put your child at risk for tooth injury.
The best protection to offer your child is a custom-fitted mouth guard, crafted by the pediatric dentist or orthodontist. It will be more costly than a store-bought mouth guard, but it's less likely to slip or obstruct breathing. The custom fit mouth guard is highly recommended for children who wear braces.
Another option is a boil-and-bite mouth guard that may be purchased at a sporting goods store or other retailer. This type of mouth guard is placed in boiling water before being used, enabling it to mold to your child's mouth as he or she bites down gently. It's the next best thing to the custom fit option.
As a last resort, you might consider the stock mouth guard sold at drug stores and sporting goods stores. The least expensive option, this will offer a degree of protection, although it may not provide a good fit or the best comfort.
Remember, good habits last a lifetime and should begin in the home. Set a good example for your children and practice good oral health for the entire family. Your pediatric dentist can offer education and guidelines, but as a parent, make it your responsibility to see that your children practice them faithfully.