Sometimes it seems like you can never get your kids to brush without whining. But don’t give up. “It’s important to help your child develop good oral health now because it will affect him for the rest of his life,” says Mario Ramos, DMD, of Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics of Midland Park. “Cavities are a disease that has many implications for overall health.”
Getting your child in the mood also means teaching a healthy lifestyle. “We want good habits to be formed early,” says Ryan Scally, DMD, in private practice at Bridgewater Dental Associates, and clinical assistant professor of pediatric dentistry at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine. “For example, if you teach them how to brush from when they’re little, it becomes routine and they’ll stick with it throughout their lives.”
Here’s what else you can do to protect your family’s oral health:
“Many parents don’t realize that kids have to go to the dentist for the first time when they’re 1 year old,” says Ramos. Once your child gets baby teeth, they can get cavities. On the first visit, your child’s dentist will make sure your child is comfortable in the chair and will assess his or her teeth, jaws, bite and gums and check growth and development. The dentist can perform a light cleaning and discuss any concerns you may have, such as teething or thumb sucking.
KEEP IT POSITIVE
Make a visit to the dentist a non-issue by behaving normally so that your child doesn’t get excited. For example, avoid saying things like, “Don’t worry. The dentist won’t hurt you’ because all your child hears is the word ‘pain’. Instead, explain that everyone goes to the dentist and that your child’s dentist is a friend who will help take care of that part of the body, says Ramos.
HELP LITTLE CHILDREN BRUSH
Children should brush for two minutes at least twice a day to ensure every surface of every tooth is cleaned. You’ll need to brush small children’s teeth because they don’t yet have the manual dexterity to do it themselves, says Scally. Typically, parents should help children brush until they are 7 or 8 years old, although some children will be ready to go on their own sooner.
Manual or electric toothbrushes are fine, although some younger kids may not like the size of the brush head or the vibrations, says Scally. On the other hand, electric brushes have timers to make sure your child is brushing long enough. Some also come with apps that give kids something to watch or interact with so that time flies by (because two minutes can seem like an eternity to most of us).
USE FLUORIDE TOOTHPASTE
Also, make sure the toothpaste you choose contains fluoride – some natural pastes don’t have it. If your child is too young to spit, use a small swab; then work up to a grain of rice-sized amount, then to a pea-sized amount. You don’t need a huge amount, says Scally. Don’t let your child rinse after brushing before bed, as the toothpaste residue will cause the fluoride to remain on the surface of the teeth overnight.
HELP CHILDREN TO FLOSS AT LEAST ONCE A DAY
You should help children floss until they can start flossing on their own, usually around age 10. Single-use dental floss is much easier to manipulate in your child’s mouth than regular dental floss. “Flossing is essential because the toothbrush can’t get between the teeth where plaque hides,” says Ramos.
ASK ABOUT FLUORIDE TREATMENTS
Your child’s dentist can recommend fluoride varnishes that can help remineralize teeth, says Scally. Fluoride makes teeth more resistant to the acid that causes tooth decay, and these treatments can be used twice a year, or more often in high-risk children.
ASK IF KITTEN ARE SUITABLE FOR YOUR CHILD
Sealants, a thin, protective coating applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, can be applied when permanent molars appear, around age 6 or 7, Scally says. Sealants can prevent early stages of decay from becoming cavities and can prevent up to 80 percent of cavities during the first two years after application, and 50 percent for up to four years.
MAKE REGULAR CLEANING APPOINTMENTS
In general, children should be seen every six months to detect problems early, but this depends on a child’s individual risk factors. Children who eat a lot of sweets and carbohydrates or have bad dental habits may need more frequent visits.
RESTRICT DIFFICULT FOODS
Some of the worst foods for teeth are sweetened drinks like soda, juice, and sports drinks, especially if kids sip them all day long. Ditto for sticky treats like gummies or fruit leathers, which stick to teeth. High-carb snacks like crackers and chips are also problematic; they should be eaten all at once, not grazed all day. That’s because the longer sugar or carbohydrates (which break down into sugar) come into contact with teeth, the longer the bacteria in your mouth have to make acids, which causes decay, says Scally.
CONSIDER A PEDIATRIC DENTIST
While your child can be seen by a general dentist, a pediatric dentist may be a better choice for some children. Pediatric dentists undergo a minimum of two additional years of post-dental training
school, including psychology, behavior management, and learning how to create a positive atmosphere for kids, says Ramos. Their offices are also more kid-friendly in design and decor, so it feels like a fun – not stressful – place for kids to visit. Find a certified pediatric dentist at aapd.org.