Childhood dental health has seen stark improvements in recent years, including a more than 50% reduction in childhood cavities in the past 35 years, stemming from both improved preventative care and the addition of fluoride to most major water sources. Additionally, more families have dental plans than in the past, and many low-income areas offer low-cost dental services in schools or through mobile clinics.
Despite these dramatic improvements in childhood dental outcomes, though, we’re still tripped up by early childhood oral care. Whether it’s questions about when to start brushing, what snacks are oral health hazards, or the importance of caring for baby teeth, many parents overlook proper dental care until permanent teeth start to come in. This can have serious long-term consequences.
Are you making any of these 4 common childhood dental care mistakes? If so, you’re certainly not alone – but it’s time to make some changes.
Now Brushing Baby Teeth
Your toddler has a couple of teeth, small white pearls that look adorable but mostly just help them crunch on cheerios and bits of pear, so why would you brush them? Because despite the general decline in childhood cavities in recent decades, cavities in baby teeth are actually increasing, primarily due to dietary factors. That means it’s important that you start focusing on oral care before your infant even starts teething.
Start by wiping down your baby’s gums and as they begin sprouting teeth, begin brushing with non-fluoride toothpaste. While fluoride is important in the big picture, until kids have the ability to spit out toothpaste, skip the fluoride there – they’ll get it from the water.
Brushing is important from the start because even though baby teeth aren’t permanent, they do form the foundation for future dental health. Additionally, building good oral care habits early is the best way to make sure they stick when kids have to take care of their teeth independently.
Waiting For The Dentist
What’s the right age for a first trip to the dentist? Many parents think the answer is around age 5 – when the child starts kindergarten – or perhaps age 3 since more kids are learning about dental care in preschool. In fact, the right time to start visiting the dentist is within 6 months of the first tooth coming in or by age one.
At these early dental appointments, you’ll receive advice on how to care for baby teeth and your dentist will also observe the developing mouth and jaw for any bite issues that could result in speech or bite problems. They can recommend appropriate products and guide you through those early years when your child’s tooth count, diet, and habits will all be constantly changing.
As your child gets older, your dentist will help them master good brushing technique and emphasize the importance of flossing. We all know that older children often take direction better from outsiders, like their teachers or doctors, than they do from their parents, so let the dentist be the authority on proper tooth care.
The sooner you start visiting the dentist with your child, the less likely they are to develop a dental phobia down the road. For many children, the first trip to the dentist comes when they’ve already heard negative or scary things about what happens there, but if your child has been visiting a dentist regularly since age one, they will always know it as a friendly, normal place.
Food Choice Failures
As noted above, food choices are among the leading causes of increased cavities in small children, but certain items really stand out from the crowd. For example, fruit snacks are a tooth health hazard because they stick to the teeth. That means they provide plenty of fuel for decay-causing bacteria, even if they’re natural fruit snacks.
Letting babies fall asleep with a bottle is also a culprit in early childhood tooth decay. The sugars in milk or formula fuel tooth decay. Never put your child in their crib with a bottle; if they fall asleep while nursing, wipe out their mouth with a damp cloth before putting them down for the night.
As permanent teeth come in, starting around age 6 or 7, children should receive dental sealants to protect against cavities. This is an ongoing process and your child will receive sealants on each progressive set of permanent teeth as they come in. Skipping sealants can put them at a high risk for cavities as they get older. Besides fluoride, regular use of dental sealants is another leading factor in the reduction of cavities in the last few decades, but they’ve lost some momentum over recent years.
Proper dental care is a vital part of overall health and it’s time we stop ignoring it. The good news, though, is that even discount dental plans will cover these core services and the majority of oral hygiene takes place at home. Lead the way and don’t delay – dental care should start early and be consistent for best adult outcomes.
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