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Good dental health starts with you—the parents! Here are 10 tips to keep your kids' teeth healthy.
Tips For Good Dental Care
- Lead by example. Show your kids that taking care of your teeth is important and not so hard by practicing good oral health yourself.
- Choose a dentist thoughtfully. Be sure to select someone who you and your family like and trust. It will make visits more pleasant for everyone.
- Stick to the recommended schedule. Take your kids to the dentist regularly — usually every six months — for routine cleanings and check-ups. Not only is this good for their dental health, it can also help your children build a comfort level with the dentist.
- Remind them to brush. Always ask your children if they brushed their teeth before they leave for school, and when they are getting ready for bed. If teeth-brushing cooperation is a constant struggle, try making it fun by brushing your teeth at the same time, humming a silly song or agreeing to "brush" a doll's teeth after they brush theirs! Until your child can tie their shoes by themselves, they’ll need your help to properly brush.
- Encourage them to brush at school. A travel toothbrush can be easily packed in your child’s backpack so that he or she can brush after snacks and lunch while at school. This might be tricky in the early years, but as they get older they will start to care about maintaining their pearly whites.
- Teach the importance of flossing. Flossing is just as important as brushing and may also help prevent gum disease. Gum disease may be associated with health complications later in life. It can also help eliminate bacteria that can lead to bad breath. Flossing goes hand in hand with brushing, so make it part of your child’s routine early.
- Make sure your child eats breakfast every day. There is evidence that young people who eat a high protein breakfast have noticeable reductions in cravings for sweets later in the day, creating an environment that will be less prone to decay.1
- Replace soda and juice with water. Encourage them early on to choose water as their go-to drink. Sugary beverages leave the teeth coated and ripe for decay. When they do have a sweet drink, have them use a straw. This reduces their teeth’s exposure to sugar.
- Reduce sugar in their diets. While this may not be easy, this effort is important to so many aspects of their health beyond just their teeth. Replace sugary snacks with healthy alternatives, such as fruit, cheese, and veggie sticks. Reserve sweet drinks and treats for special occasions. And, read labels — you might be surprised to discover all the places where sugar hides.
- Reward healthy habits. Leave small tokens or rewards from the “tooth fairy,” every now and then, to reward your child for practicing good oral health.
Your Child's First Dental Appointment
According to the Academy of General Dentistry, the American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child should visit the dentist six months after they get their first tooth, or no later than their first birthday. Although that may sound early, tooth decay can happen with your baby’s first tooth.2 Taking your child to the dentist by their first birthday is the best way to catch any problems early. introduce them to a dental office and answer your questions about their oral health and development. If your child is more than one year old already and hasn’t been to the dentist yet, make an appointment as soon as you can.
Making a dentist appointment. Choose an appointment time when your child is usually well-rested and cooperative. It's also helpful to be sure they had a light meal and brushed their teeth before their appointment so they won’t be hungry during their visit.3
Before the visit. Talk with your child about what to expect during the visit and get them excited. Maybe pick up a children’s book at the library about a first trip to the dentist. Don’t let others tell your child scary stories about the dentist. If you’re anxious on the day of their first visit, try not to show it. Their first visit to the dentist is a chance for you and your kid to get comfortable with the whole routine. There are great age-appropriate videos and activities you can find online that show a first dental visit.
At the visit. Your dentist and hygienist will show you how to properly clean your child’s teeth and mouth. The dentist will examine your child for tooth decay, any gum/soft tissue problems, and proper growth and development, and talk with you about fluoride needs and oral habits such as thumb-sucking or pacifier use. You’ll also learn more about how to teach your child good oral hygiene habits.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult with your dentist for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations.
1 How to Stop Food Cravings for Sugar and Carbs, Medical News Today, August 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322947.
2 Baby’s First Tooth: 7 Facts Parents Should Know, American Academy of Pediatrics, November 2020, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/teething-tooth-care/Pages/Babys-First-Tooth-Facts-Parents-Should-Know.aspx.
3 Dental Exam for Children,Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/dental-exam-for-children/about/pac-20393745, February 2018.