Oral health and overall health are inextricably linked, so parents should take steps to ensure their children's healthy mouths starting from infancy. Offering guidance about preventative dental care as soon as children are old enough to understand its importance is vital for developing a lifetime of beneficial habits.
Oral Care for Infants
Parents may mistakenly think that their infant's mouths do not require attention until teeth appear. However, oral bacteria can occur at any age. Germs can transfer off of everyday objects that infants place in their mouths, including:
• Bottle nipples
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that parents protect their infants' gums by gently massaging them with a clean, moist washcloth to reduce bacteria. Cleaning and replacing chewing accessories frequently during teething is also helpful.
Parents should discourage their infants from sucking on bottles throughout the day and night to avoid continually bathing gums and emerging teeth in formula and juice, which can cause inflammation and tooth decay with long-term consequences.
Although some parents may not realize that infants need dental attention, addressing the health of children's' primary teeth as soon as possible can ensure proper chewing and speech development, sufficient bone growth to accommodate permanent teeth, and the jawbone's structural integrity.
Introducing Brushing to Children
Children's teeth begin to erupt around six months of age. Parents can introduce a soft-bristle toothbrush moistened with water to clean them and massage the gums. Children can start to use a grain-sized amount of toothpaste at 2 years old. Choosing a fluoride-free variety with a palatable fruity flavor can help children keep the toothpaste in their mouths and ease parents' concerns about their children swallowing it. Kids can start learning to use for themselves a toothbrush appropriately sized for their small mouths at 5 years old.
Teaching Proper Brushing Technique
Young children may need assistance holding a toothbrush at first. When guiding a child's hand during brushing, parents should take great care to ensure a comfortable experience by avoiding excessive pressure or speed that might injure delicate gum tissue or frighten a child. Small circular motions of a brush positioned at a 45 degrees angle to the gum line are ideal for loosening food particles and plaque. Showing children how to use a toothbrush to clean the tongue is also beneficial, but young children may not find this step agreeable at first.
Determining Brushing Frequency
Children should get into the habit of brushing twice daily as soon as possible. Generally, this includes brushing once in the morning after waking and once in the evening before bed. Teaching children to also brush after eating candy or other treats can educate them in the importance of cavity prevention.
Encouraging Children To Brush
At first, young children may be excited to learn how to brush their teeth, but many parents find that the novelty of this activity wears off quickly as they struggle to convince their children to maintain the habit. Parents can use various methods to encourage their children to want to brush their teeth.
Turning brushing into a family activity is an excellent way to bond while reinforcing the importance of good hygiene. Young children are especially eager to mimic their parents.
Creating a wardrobe of toothbrushes and different kinds of toothpaste offers variety and can motivate children by allowing them to have a different experience every time they brush.
Make Brushing Part of a Game
Creativity may be necessary to ensure that brushing sustains a child's interest. For example, variations of a game with the premise of keeping the bad guys, or germs, out of the mouth can be exciting enough to make a child look forward to brushing.
Whatever methods parents use to encourage the habit, introducing brushing and toothpaste young is an essential aspect of establishing an oral healthcare routine to ensure a child's overall well-being.