A nice smile can give you the confidence you need to talk to people, make friends, give a speech, excel in a job interview or take on a job or task that puts you in the public eye. Conversely, bad teeth can cause low self-esteem and missed opportunities. When we can so easily see the difference good oral hygiene can make in a person’s life, why then, would we not make sure that our children, too, are practicing the very best dental habits?
Children only know what is taught to them or modeled for them. Therefore, it’s up to you, the parent, to set your child on a course that will either be beneficial or detrimental to your child’s overall health and sense of well being. February is National Children’s Dental Health Month and it’s a great time to focus on your child’s teeth and how to best care for them.
It’s never too early to start thinking about your child’s teeth, even if they don’t have any yet! Even babies can get in the habit of brushing and learning that taking care of their mouths is just as much a part of their day as taking care of the rest of their body. Milk and formula can leave bacteria along a baby’s gum line, that if not cleaned, can lead to dental problems later on. You can greatly reduce your baby’s chance of having tooth decay or gum disease by simply wiping their gums with a wet cloth. Or, visit any St. Louis Babies R Us and purchase a baby dental care kit, which includes a rubber finger tip brush to get baby used to a rubbing sensation in his or her mouth and different stages of brushes that can be used before and after the first teeth break through.
Furthermore, babies and toddlers should never be given a bottle or sippy cup to help them go to sleep, and especially not one containing milk or juice. Get in the practice at a very young age, of only giving water once your child has had teeth brushed for the night.
Stay away from sugary snacks as much as possible. Children are not born craving sweets. They only know they want that taste because a parent or caregiver, at some point, has given it to them, thus setting them up for a common sugar addiction. Offer fruits and vegetables to your child as much as possible, and if you do serve a sugar-filled snack, at least try to limit them to snacks that brush off easily, rather than gummy or chewy snacks such as fruit snacks.
Make sure your child is brushing his or her teeth at least twice a day, after meals. Young children should not be trusted to brush their teeth alone. Though it’s great to encourage independence, a parent should always brush the teeth first, so that every tooth is reached. Then, let your child do the follow up brushing to practice.
Children under the age of two, or those whom you can’t yet trust not to swallow toothpaste, can use a training toothpaste, such as Orajel’s. Training toothpaste is readily available in St. Louis at Target, Walgreens, Kmart and even some grocery stores, on the same aisle as adult toothpaste. However, as soon as your child demonstrates that they are no longer sucking the toothpaste off the toothbrush, it’s time to switch to a flouride toothpaste, which will better protect their teeth.
Babies as young as 6 months can have a dental checkup. At that age, a pediatric dentist will simply look at your child’s gums and identify any potential problems. The American Dental Association recommends that all children should see a dentist by age one, as it will help your dentist spot any areas of concern, but also help your child become familiar with the dentist and process of regular dental checkups. It is also helpful to have a dentist who has already examined your child, in case, during the learning to walk stage, your child should suffer a dental trauma caused by a fall.
Even if your child is older and has never seen a dentist, it’s never too late to start. If you feel that you may have gotten off on the wrong foot with oral hygiene, a good pediatric dentist can help your child learn proper brushing techniques and healthy eating habits. Of great help is for you to encourage your child and reassure him that going to the dentist is a normal part of life. Don’t let your own fears or past trauma influence your decision to take your child to the dentist. Even if you’ve had a bad experience, it doesn’t mean going to the dentist has to be a negative experience for your kids. If a parent can exude a sense of calm for their child, kids will almost always approach their dental visit with normal childhood curiosity and a general sense of security, rather than fear.
The Greater St. Louis Dental Society can assist you in finding a dentist through their interactive website search. However, parents are encouraged to talk to other parents and caregivers to see if they can offer a good recommendation. Parents should call a dental office and ask any questions they may have before committing their child to an appointment. Not every dentist is the right match for your child, and of course, you’ll want your child’s first visit to be a comfortable one, if you are going to be able to promote life long healthy dental hygiene habits.
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