Tips for Tots: Set Your Kids Up for Healthy Teeth
By Dr. John Luther, Chief Dental Officer, DentaQuest
Whether it’s changing diapers or taking the kids to soccer practice, parents of children of all ages have ample responsibility to keep their children happy and healthy. Even from an early age, this duty includes promoting good oral health to ensure their kids have healthy smiles for a lifetime.
Current research shows that just over half of children between the ages of six and 11, and 28 percent of preschoolers have tooth decay. Some might say, “It’s okay to have cavities as a child – they’ll lose those teeth anyway.” But, in reality, these statistics are a serious issue. Contrary to what many believe, getting cavities is NOT an inevitable part of growing up. Dental disease (cavities and gum disease) are nearly 100% preventable. Kids who have cavities grow up to be adults with tooth decay, and that can lead to other serious and costly health problems later on.
Luckily for busy parents, here are a few easy, preventive habits that can help your children maintain good oral health:
Head to the dentist when first tooth emerges
Connecting your child to a dental home, or an ongoing relationship with a dental care provider, from the moment the first tooth comes in is essential to long-term oral health. From the first visit onward, make sure to schedule dental check-ups every six months. You’ll learn the dos and don’ts about taking care of your child’s teeth at home. Also, during these initial preventive visits, a dentist can help make sure your child’s teeth and gums are in optimal condition for permanent teeth to come in.
Before teeth, use a washcloth
While you’re waiting for your baby’s teeth to grow in, get prepared by gently cleaning the gums twice a day with a wet washcloth. When the baby teeth do come in, keep up the routine so the teeth stay strong and healthy, and the mouth will be free of cavity-causing bacteria from the start. The lower teeth typically appear after eight months, followed by the upper front teeth at 10 months and molars at 26 months.
Choose healthy snacks
In moderation, fruits are healthy alternatives to other snacks with added sugars – however, not all fruits are the same. While firm fruits like apples and pears can help keep plaque off the teeth, bananas and raisins are chewy, sticky and full of sugar that can stick to your teeth. Granola bars, another deceivingly unhealthy snack, are packed with sugar. So, when you give your child a mid-day snack, think about nuts or seeds instead which help rebuild tooth enamel. If your child is very young, it’s a good idea to check with your pediatrician about peanuts.
Avoid surprisingly sugary drinks
Apple juice and milk are classic childhood drinks, but when provided in excess or at the wrong time, these drinks could promote tooth decay. Watering down juices to a mixture of ¼ juice and ¾ water can drastically cut your child’s sugar intake. If it’s a drink before bed, be sure to stick to water – not milk – as the sugars linger in your child’s mouth overnight, feeding bacteria that cause cavities. After any sugary drinks or snacks, rinse your child’s mouth with water and be sure to brush before bed.