Tooth Care for Kids

My daughter's kindergarten class went on a field trip to a dentist's office recently. We go to the dentist regularly, so I admit that at first I thought the trip was a waste of time. However, the trip did end up impressing on me that many children today have little or no regular dental care, and that a refresher on basic dental care is always a good thing.

Things You Can Do to Keep Your Child's Teeth Healthy

  • In the first year of life, start brushing baby's teeth as soon as the first ones appear (usually at around 6 to 7 months of age). Make it fun by letting your baby hold the toothbrush, but also establish the pattern early where you always have a turn brushing the teeth too. The idea here to gradually get across is that tooth brushing is a must, not a choice.
  • Don't put your baby to bed with a bottle. If you do, make sure it only has plain water in it, because milk contains sugar that will sit on the teeth overnight and can cause cavities.
  • Limit juices and sodas. And have kids rinse out with water after they drink these beverages.
  • Get children in the habit early of brushing their teeth twice a day: morning, and then right before bed in the evening.
  • After the nighttime brushing, don't allow kids to drink anything except water--or make them brush again.
  • Use toothpaste without fluoride before age 2 years. After 2 years of age, put just a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste on the brush.
  • Get your child to the dentist for his or her first visit by age 3 years. Your pediatrician or word of mouth amongst friends is the best way to find a good dentist.
  • Be aware that susceptibility to cavities can be hereditary. If either parent had a lot of cavities as a child, get your child to the dentist closer to 1 or 2 years of age.
  • Know that sticky foods like gummi bears and raisins are the type of snack that's hardest on the teeth. Such foods get wedged between teeth and stay stuck down there, increasing cavity risk.
  • If your child chews gum, offer sugar-free brands only.
  • Continue to help your child brush their teeth until they are 7 years old--or longer, as my 8-year-old's tooth-brushing skills demonstrate to me every night!
  • Before teaching your children how to brush, first be sure that you know the latest and best tooth-brushing practices yourself. Recommendations about tooth-brushing techniques tend to evolve and change over the years, as dentists learn more.
  • Start to encourage flossing at an early age, especially if your child has teeth that are close together and touch. Some of the handheld flossing devices now on the market make it easy for you and fun for your child to start practicing flossing together.
  • Talk to your pediatrician about whether fluoride supplementation is recommended for children in your community.
  • And, as always, be a good role model for your child. Brush and floss in front of them and take them along occasionally when you visit your own dentist.

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