Start Good Habits
Begin a dental routine for your child as early as birth. “Wipe your child’s gums with a clean washcloth after each feeding,” said Shawn Henderson, MBA, dental practice manager for Mission Children’s Hospital. “This sets a routine and gets your child used to your involvement.”
When baby teeth appear, brush your child’s teeth twice daily with an infant-sized toothbrush. Start flossing when two teeth touch each other. Plastic flossing tools can help you teach your child to floss.
“Ideally, children should brush after each meal or snack,” said Henderson. “Since that isn’t always possible, a good rule of thumb is to brush at least twice a day – once in the morning and before your child goes to bed.”
Visit a dentist with your child after the first eight teeth come in, said Katherine Jowers, DDS, Children’s Dental Practice at Mission Hospital. “This is important because primary teeth sometimes have flaws that make them vulnerable to cavities and other problems,” she said.
Beware of letting your child walk around with a sippy cup or bottle. “Don’t let your child fall into a habit of sipping on drinks for entertainment. Each time they sip, they soak their teeth with the drink. Sweet and sour drinks, like soda and juice, cause lots of tooth damage this way,” said Dr. Jowers. Instead, give your child water throughout the day and serve other drinks, like juice, with meals.
Set a Good Example
“Set a good example,” said Henderson. “Brush your teeth with your child in the bathroom in front of a mirror to make it more interactive.”
“Technique is not as critical as making sure teeth are clean,” said Dr. Jowers. “Look closely – plaque is white, the same color as teeth. Make sure teeth look shiny, not fuzzy. A strong magnifier, at least 5x, makes the scummy white plaque on teeth very easy to see. Around the gum line area is especially critical.”
“Children sometimes enjoy brushing their own teeth, but they do it about as well as they tie their shoes or write their name,” said Dr. Jowers. “As responsible parents, we can’t leave them to do it themselves.”
At about 6 years old, permanent teeth start to appear. But children often lack the fine motor skills necessary to thoroughly brush their teeth on their own until 7 or 8 years old, said Henderson. This is why helping your child is so important. “As teeth come in, it will become easier to graduate to a baby toothbrush,” said Dr. Jowers. “A wet toothbrush is fine. Toothpaste is optional. Fluoride toothpaste is not recommended for babies.”
“Brushing with your child helps him or her gain the skills needed for lifelong dental health, and presents the opportunity to have bonding time, a win-win situation!” said Henderson.
Shawn Henderson, MBA, is dental practice manager for Mission Children’s Hospital.
Katherine Jowers, DDS, is a dentist for Children’s Dental Practice, Mission Hospital. (828) 213-1700