Children are our tomorrow. It is very important that we establish a good foundation for them so they will follow through as model adolescents and adults.
This holds true in dentistry as well. There are many things parents can do for their children and teach their children, in order to establish the importance of healthy teeth and mouth. As in many other aspects of life, here too, prevention is far better than cure.
The first place to start is what to give our children to eat. Their diet and snacking habits influence their general and dental growth. Hence, it is very important to follow a balanced and healthy diet and snacking pattern. Fruits, vegetables, milk, whole grains and beans, and meat should all be in balance. Stock your pantry with nutritious and healthy food and save the “fun” foods, like candy, for special occasions. Serve nutritious snacks and limit sweets to mealtimes. Sticky starch can lead to a higher risk for forming tooth decay. Starch is found in food like breads, pasta, potato chips etc. Most natural and processed foods contain some type of sugar. Although it may be impossible to cut down on sugar and sticky starch entirely, it is important that after consumption, the teeth be brushed clean off any sticky starch and sugars. If the children like gum or soda, it would be prudent to buy some that are sugar-free. Some brands have “xylitol” in their gum. This might be healthier for the children if gum must be given at all.
Avoid the practice of putting a toddler to bed with a bottle of milk or fruit juice. This could lead to the most devastating forms of tooth decay, called Baby Bottle Tooth Decay or Early Childhood Caries, in infants and toddlers. Fortunately, this is something that can be prevented. Here are some simple prevention techniques:
- Infants should finish their bedtime and nap time bottles before going to bed. Discourage frequent or prolonged use of a training (sippy) cup.
- Place only formula, milk or breast milk in bottles. Avoid filling the bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks.
- Avoid dipping the baby's pacifier in sugar or honey before giving it to your baby.
- After each feeding, wipe the baby’s gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or washcloth.
- Disengage the bottle habit after 12-14 months of age.
The American Academy for Pediatric Dentistry recommends “first visit by first birthday” when it comes to the time to first take your baby in to see a dentist. Prevention is the reason why the visit is recommended so early on. It is also important to establish a dental office environment and therefore a dental home for your child. So, a visit between the ages of 6 months to a year is highly recommended.
It is very important to establish an excellent oral hygiene regimen very early. This acts as a superlative preventive technique against future dental problems and also gives an excellent foundation for adolescent and adult oral care. Start cleaning your baby's teeth as early as you can. Infant's gums should be cleaned from birth with cloth and water or a soft infant toothbrush. As soon as teeth begin to appear, use a soft, age appropriate sized toothbrush to brush your baby's teeth. It is advised by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry to do this twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste meant for kids. Use a “smear” of toothpaste for kids under 2 years and a “pea-sized” amount for kids between 2-5 years of age. Brush your child’s teeth until they are capable of brushing effectively on their own. The time between 6 months to 3 years is considered the “teething” age for your children. Gently massaging your child's gums with clean fingertips can help soothe the tender gums.
Ask your dentist or pediatric dentist for advice on fluoride. Using small amounts of fluoride on a routine basis may help prevent tooth decay. Age of the child, risk for developing dental decay and dietary sources of fluoride are factors the dentist or pediatric dentist might consider before recommending supplemental fluoride. Although fluoride used in prevention of decay is safe and effective, it is advisable to keep products containing fluoride out of the reach of children till they are of a responsible age.
The American Association of Orthodontists deems that the optimal age for an orthodontic evaluation is age 7. Make sure to speak with your dentist or pediatric dentist about your child's possible orthodontic care.
It is important for children to realize how priceless their teeth and gums are. The mouth is the gateway to the entire body. Children who maintain healthy teeth and gums are healthier, eat better and have good self-confidence.
There is no greater joy that I experience than when I see little kids come into my practice with happy smiles and healthy mouths, just excited to be at the dental office, knowing that they are going to get their teeth cleaned. Help your children understand that if they took care of the pearly whites, they will keep them smiling for life!