After around six months, more or less, your children will start to develop their first baby teeth. The process is painful, a period commonly described as teething. However, that’s only the start of your child’s dental woes. The moment they start to emerge, your child’s baby teeth will become vulnerable to damage just as much as your teeth are now. While it’s tempting to dismiss infant tooth decay with the reasoning “They’ll just grow new ones”, the truth is this is a very damaging attitude to take.
Damage done to your child’s milk teeth can have a negative impact on how their permanent teeth will develop and grow, not to mention the potential pain and health risks that tooth decay and loss can cause in the meantime. To prevent this, you should work to develop good dental habits in your children as soon as possible. To do so will not only protect their milk teeth but also better prepare them for protecting their permanent teeth too later on in life.
Start Young. Really Young.
Even before your child’s first teeth come through, take an active approach to your child’s dental hygiene. From the first few days of birth, carefully wipe your baby’s gums with a clean, moist gauze or cloth. Do this twice a day until baby’s first teeth start to develop. These will usually be the front four teeth, and you can expect these to start poking through the gums after around six months. If it’s been six months and there’s still no sign of their first tooth, don’t panic! Some babies won’t have them until they’re over a year old. Keep cleaning their gums and teeth with the cloth during this time.
Remember that your child’s teeth are susceptible to decay from the moment they start to push from the gums, so keep your baby’s mouth clean as much as you can. Avoid feeding your baby sugary snacks where possible, and try to avoid sweetening their pacifier or bottle teats with honey or sugar. Use sugar-free alternatives instead.
Once your baby has grown their first few teeth, usually around the age of two, you should brush them yourself twice daily to keep them clean and healthy. Use a suitable toothbrush – if necessary ask for a recommendation from your family dentist or paediatrician – and place a very small smear of fluoride toothpaste on the bristles. It should be no larger than a grain of rice. Brush thoroughly yet gently once in the morning and once in the evening. Take the opportunity to explain why it’s important for their teeth to be brushed from a young age. Don’t forget to floss as well.
Once they hit around three years of age and their motor skills have improved sufficiently, you can start to allow your child to take a more proactive approach in brushing their teeth. Allow them to start doing some of the motions themselves – the best way to do this is to allow them to start or finish the brushing routine.
Visiting the Dentist
It is said that familiarity breeds contempt. Disregard this proverb as quickly as you’re able. Here, familiarity breeds good dental habits. As soon as your infant’s first tooth appears, you should schedule their first dentist visit within sixth months. Certainly, it should be no later than their first birthday. There are two reasons behind this.
First, your dentist may be able to alert you to any problems in baby’s early dental development, such as teeth coming through crooked or potential gum diseases. Second, it’s important to get your child used to the dentist as soon as possible. The moment such check-ups seem routine, they become more comfortable and more bearable to the child.
Your child may, as children often do, express reluctance to visit the dentist. This is easily remedied, however, it’s important to establish proper coaching in this regard. First of all, never frighten a child about going to the dentist. Flippantly scary statements like “You better have brushed your teeth or the dentist will pull them out” will only make the child more reluctant to visit in the first place. Later on, it may even instil a tendency to avoid seeking dentist treatments as adults. If your child is intimidated at first to visit, call your local dentist and ask if you can bring your child in for a tour. This will allow them to become familiar with the office environment before their first visit. The dentist may even have time to talk with your child one on one to prepare them. Most dentists, like Dr. Johnson in Ft. Lauderdale, genuinely do care about their patients and will help a parent and child ease into their first and future visits.
On the other side of the valley, never bribe your child into visiting the dentist. Your child should not expect a reward for such a fundamental part of good dental habit, so don’t encourage the attitude. Rewards, however, are another thing entirely. If your child comes away from a check-up with no cavities and a glowing appraisal from their dentist, feel free to give them a (sugar-free) treat.
As They Grow Older
About the time your child is able to tie their own shoelaces, they should have the motor skill and hand-to-eye coordination to start brushing their teeth on their own. Encourage them to think about their dental hygiene by teaching them to run their tongue over their teeth. If their teeth feel smooth and shiny, they’re clean. If they feel bumpy and grimy, they need brushing.
Use dental products suitable for children. Smaller brushes will fit in their mouths more easily, and the brushes may be less damaging on their teeth. Likewise, ensure you replace toothbrushes every three months or so. Make it a fun event by taking your child out shopping so they can pick their own brush and toothpaste. The fact they chose them will make them more enthusiastic about brushing their teeth, and you’ll be surprised at the wide variety available.
Remember: kids learn by mimicry. As you teach your kids good hygiene, make sure you practise good dental habits yourself. To do otherwise will make you seem hypocritical and lessen the impact of what you teach them, which will not only inhibit your children in developing good dental habits but reduce you as an authority figure in their eyes.