Each February, the American Dental Association (ADA) sponsors National Children's Dental Health Month (NCDHM) to raise awareness about the importance of oral health. NCDHM messages and materials have reached millions of people in communities across the country. Teaching children to care for their teeth is essential to ensure a lifetime of healthy smiles.
Oral care should begin long before a child has his first tooth. Caring for your baby's mouth will help you both get into the daily habit of caring for your teeth and gums. A baby’s mouth and gums can be gently swiped with a piece of gauze or wet washcloth at least once daily.
As the first tooth erupts, generally around 6 months of age, a small, soft toothbrush can be used. Toothpaste is not recommended until at least the age of two and then only use a pea-size amount. Ingesting large amounts of fluoride while teeth are forming can lead to a condition known as fluorosis (a white to brown staining of the teeth).
Brushing must be done by the parents until the child is proficient in cleaning his own teeth (about the age of 6). Children should be encouraged to have "their turn" in order to learn and develop a good habit. Also, parents should floss their child's teeth as soon as any two teeth touch together. Be sure to ask your hygienist about ways to accomplish this task more easily.
Fluoride is a mineral that makes teeth more resistant to decay. If your child is not consuming fluoridated water, be sure to ask your dentist or pediatrician about a prescription supplement.
Another preventative measure used in dentistry are sealants. Sealants are a plastic coating that covers the pits and fissures of the biting surfaces of teeth. These areas are usually inaccessible to your toothbrush where plaque and bacteria can flourish causing decay. Sealants are easily placed in the dental office with no anesthetic.
An important part of preventative care is your child's first visit to the dentist. A child’s first visit should be fun. A child who perceives the dental team as a friend rather than a foe will find visits much easier and is more likely to continue the life-long habit of regular dental cleanings.