Your Child’s Dental Health is Important
The most common chronic childhood disease in America is tooth decay, affecting 50 percent of first-graders and 80 percent of 17-year-olds. Early treatment prevents problems impacting a child’s health, well-being, self-image and overall achievement. The National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research estimates that children will miss 52 million hours of school each year due to oral health problems and about 12.5 million days of restricted activity every year from dental symptoms. Because there is such a significant loss in their academic performance, the Surgeon General has made children’s oral health a priority.
Parents are responsible for ensuring their children practice good dental hygiene, and they must introduce proper oral care early in a child’s life—as early as infancy. The American Dental Hygiene Association states that a good oral hygiene routine for children includes:
- Thoroughly cleaning your infant’s gums after each feeding with a water-soaked infant cloth. This stimulates the gum tissue and removes food.
- Gently brushing your baby’s erupted teeth with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and using a pea-sized amount of non-fluoridated toothpaste.
- Teaching your child at age 2 or 3 about proper brushing techniques, and introducing a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste when your he or she is able to spit properly.
- Teaching your child gentle flossing techniques, and overseeing or participating in their oral hygiene routine until 7 or 8 years old.
- Regular visits with their dentist to check for cavities in the primary teeth and for possible developmental problems.
- Encouraging your child to discuss any fears they may have about oral health visits, but not mentioning words like “pain” or “hurt,” since this may instill the possibility of pain in the child’s thought process.
- Determining if the water supply that serves your home is fluoridated; if not, discussing supplement options with Dr. Tim or Dr. Jodi.
- Asking the hygienist about sealant applications to protect your child’s teeth-chewing surfaces and about bottle tooth decay, which occurs when teeth are frequently exposed to sugared liquids.
How to Help Your Child Brush
Your child should use a toothbrush with soft bristles and a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. If your child is younger than 3, he or she should use non-fluoridated toddler toothpaste, also called training toothpaste. After age 3 and once he or she can spit well, you should introduce fluoridated toothpaste and continue to participate and/or supervise brushing. Use no more than a pea-sized amount, and make sure children do not swallow excess toothpaste.
When you brush their teeth, move the brush in small circular motions to reach food particles that may be under the gum line. Hold the toothbrush at an angle and brush slowly and carefully, covering all areas between teeth and the surface of each tooth. It will take you several minutes to thoroughly brush their teeth. Brush up on the lower teeth, down on the upper teeth and the outside, inside and chewing surface of all of their front and back teeth. Brush their tongue and the roof of their mouth before they rinse.
How to Help Your Child Floss
For areas between the teeth that a toothbrush can’t reach, dental floss is used to remove food particles and plaque. Dental floss is a thin thread of waxed nylon that is used to reach below the gum line and clean between teeth. It is very important to floss your child’s teeth every day.
Many parents and children prefer floss picks to traditional string floss because they are easier for a child to use. There are a variety of flossers and floss picks available at most drugstores.
If you do opt for traditional string floss, make sure you use the proper technique. Start by pulling a small length of floss from the dispenser. Wrap the ends of the floss tightly around your middle fingers. Guide the floss between all teeth to the gum line, pulling out any food particles or plaque. Unwrap clean floss from around your fingers as you go, so that you have used the floss from beginning to end when you finish. Floss behind all of the back teeth as well.
Your children should ideally floss at night to ensure their teeth are squeaky clean before they go to bed. When they first begin flossing, you may notice that their gums bleed a little, and that’s okay. After they have been flossing regularly for a few days, the bleeding will gradually start to subside. If the bleeding continues or becomes bothersome, let the hygienist know at your child’s next appointment.
Fluoride for Children
Fluoride is a substance that helps teeth become stronger and resistant to decay. Regularly drinking water treated with fluoride and brushing and flossing regularly ensures significantly lower cavities. Dentists can evaluate the level of fluoride in a primary drinking water source and recommend fluoride supplements (usually in tablets or drops), if necessary. When your child comes to the dentist every six months, they will also receive a concentrated fluoride treatment to keep their teeth strong.