7 Ways to Protect Your Child’s Oral Health

The toddler had 16 teeth. Despite his young age, four of the teeth were so decayed that they needed dental crowns. This toddler’s parents didn’t realize how important baby teeth are. The reality is you have to start brushing when the first tooth comes in. This may sound ridiculous, but such situations aren’t rare. In fact, tooth decay — although largely preventable with good care — is the one of the most common chronic diseases of children ages 6 to 11 and teens ages 12 to 19. Tooth decay is five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever in children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

By kindergarten age, more than 40% of kids have tooth decay. Neglecting baby teeth is not the only misstep parents can make when it comes to their child’s early oral health.

Here’s your 7-step game plan.

Start Oral Care Early:

Your child should see a dentist by the time he’s a year old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

Getting preventive care early saves money in the long run, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report found that costs for dental care were nearly 40% lower over a five-year period for children who got dental care by age one compared to those who didn’t go to the dentist until later.

Teach the Brush & Floss Habit:

Dental visits are just part of the plan, of course. Tooth brushing is also crucial from the start. Even before your baby has teeth, you can gently brush the gums, using water on a soft baby toothbrush, or clean them with a soft washcloth.

Once there are additional teeth you can buy infant toothbrushes that are very soft. Brushing should be done twice daily using a fluoridated toothpaste. Flossing should begin when two teeth touch each other. Ask your dentist to show you the right flossing techniques and schedules. Also ask your dentist’s advice on when to start using mouthwash. Young children are just as likely to swallow the mouthwash as to spit it out because they don’t realize it’s not a beverage. So how long until Junior can be responsible for brushing his own teeth? Usually parents clearn their kids’ teeth until they’re able to tie their shoes or write in cursive, according to traditional advice given to parents by dentists. During dental visits, ask your dentist if your child’s teeth need fluoride protection or a dental sealant.

Avoid “Baby Bottle Decay”:

For years, pediatricians and dentists have been cautioning parents not to put an infant or older child down for a nap with a bottle of juice, formula, or milk. Still, many parents don’t realize this can wreak havoc with their child’s oral health. The sugary liquids in the bottle cling to baby’s teeth, providing food for bacteria that live in the mouth. The bacteria produce acids that can trigger tooth decay. Left unchecked, dental disease can adversely affect a child’s growth and learning, and can even affect speech. If you must give your child a bottle to take to bed, make sure it contains only water, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines.

Control the Sippy Cup Habit:

Bottles taken to bed aren’t the only beverage problem. The other is juice given during the day as a substitute for water and milk in a sippy cup. The mistake is to believe juice is a healthy day-long choice for a beverage, but that’s not the case. Prolonged use of a sippy cup can cause decay on the back of the front teeth, if the beverages are sugary. Juice consumption has been linked to childhood obesity and the development of tooth decay, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In its current policy statement on preventive oral health, the organization advises parents to limit the intake of 100% fruit juice to no more than four ounces a day. Sugary drinks and foods should be limited to mealtimes.

Ditch the Binky by 2 or 3:

Pacifiers used in the first year of life may actually help prevent sudden infant death syndrome, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. They suggest using a pacifier when placing the infant to sleep but not to reinsert it when the infant is asleep. Long-term use can be hazardous to dental health. Sucking too strongly on a pacifier, for instance, can affect how the top and bottom teeth line up (the “bite”) or can affect the shape of the mouth.

It’s best to use pacifiers for infants, not for toddlers walking around with them in their mouths The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests getting a professional evaluation if the pacifier habit continues beyond age 3.

Beware of Mouth-Unfriendly Medicines:

Many medications that children take are flavored and sugary, if that sticks on the teeth, the risk for tooth decay goes up. Children on medications for chronic conditions such as asthma and heart problems often have a higher decay rate. Antibiotics and some asthma medications can cause an overgrowth of candida (yeast), which can lead to a fungal infection called oral thrush. Suspect thrush if you see creamy, curd-like patches on the tongue or inside the mouth. If your child is on chronic medications, ask your child’s dentist how often you should brush. You may be advised to help your child brush as often as four times a day.

Stand Firm on Oral Hygiene:

Parents often say that their children put up a fuss when it comes time to brush and floss, so parents relent and don’t keep up with oral care at home as they should. What do you do? Let your children know they don’t have a choice about brushing and flossing.

Children can get cranky and difficult. Here’s some tips to coax reluctant brushers and flossers to get the job done — or if they are too young, to allow their parents to help them do it.

• Plan to help your children longer than you may think necessary. Children don’t have the fine motor skills to brush their own teeth until about age 6. Flossing skills don’t get good until later, probably age 10.

• Schedule the brushing and flossing and rinsing, if advised, at times when your child is not overly tired. You may get more cooperation from a child who isn’t fatigued.

• Get your child involved in a way that’s age-appropriate. For instance, you might let a child who is age 5 or older pick his own toothpaste at the store, from options you approve. You could buy two or three different kinds of toothpaste and let the child choose which one to use each time. You may offer him a choice of toothbrushes, including kid-friendly ones that are brightly colored or decorated.

• Figure out what motivates your child. A younger child may gladly brush for a sticker, for instance, or gold stars on a chart.

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