Healthy teeth are vital to your child’s health, and it’s important to establish good oral care habits at a young age. But how can you get your kids on board the healthy teeth train?
Primary teeth play a key role in your child’s ability to chew, talk and smile, so it is crucial that parents or guardians guide children in healthy habits. “Your child should have their first dental visit by their first birthday, or within 6 months of their first tooth,” says Lauren Capozza, DMD, of Loveland Pediatric Dentistry.
Begin Good Habits
Even before your baby’s teeth come in, you can start a good tooth-brushing routine at home. From birth until teeth come in, clean your baby’s mouth and gums with a soft cloth at bath time. This helps prepare your baby for the teeth cleaning to come. Once teeth begin to erupt, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children start to use a fluoride toothpaste, says Dr. Katie Stewart at Sea of Smiles. “The AAPD also recommends monitoring how much toothpaste is used while kiddos are not consistently spitting,” she says. “A small amount, about the size of a grain of rice, is all that is needed.”
Kids ages 2 and older should brush their teeth at least twice a day — once in the morning and once at night. And as for flossing? “Flossing is needed when teeth are touching,” says Dr. John Gennantonio at Sea of Smiles. “For some children, this is early on in life, and others a little later. It all depends on the spacing!”
Prepare for Your Visit
To prepare for your child’s first dental visit, it’s best to keep things simple and not too involved. “You could buy a book about first dental visits with simple illustrations. And you could tell your child things like, ‘We are going to get your teeth sparkled today,’ or ‘Your dentist will tickle your teeth today,’” says Rhonda Mills, RDH, a hygienist with HealthPoint Family Care in Covington. “These statements will not evoke negative thoughts or extra anxiety for your child.”
“When preparing your child for their first visit to the dentist, it’s important to let them express their fears and ask questions,” says Dr. Kyle Jackson of Centerville Pediatric Dentistry. “Make sure to acknowledge that you understand new things can be scary. The key is to stay positive! You may have some dental anxiety yourself, but do your best to make the future dentist visit sound exciting and fun for your child.”
Jackson offers a few more practical things you can do to prepare:
- Read a book with your child’s favorite character going to the dentist.
- Show your child pictures of the office if they’re available online. This helps your child picture where they will be and feel more confident when they arrive.
- Take a favorite stuffy or toy with them for comfort.
- Play dentist at home! Use a doctor kit or tools around the house and take turns being the dentist with your child. Practice opening wide and counting teeth. That favorite stuffy may also need a dental exam.
Make It Fun
Beyond the basics, one of the ways to get your children excited about taking care of their teeth is by making it fun.
“Tooth brushing should be fun!” Mills says. “Let your child pick their toothbrush character. And manual timers or toothbrushes with built in timers can keep your child on pace with the 2 minute recommendations. Toothpaste flavors can make things fun as well. Let your child have a turn and then mom or dad should always get a turn, especially at night before bed.”
In the end, remember that young children thrive on routine, so making dental hygiene a non-negotiable part of their daily routine will lead to healthy long-term habits.