It can be a struggle to get kids to brush their teeth, but early life is the time to build good dental-care habits to help keep kids’ teeth healthy, experts say. Even though those baby teeth will fall out, poor dental hygiene early can cause long-term problems. Close to half of children ages 2-19 get cavities. (Good news though: That number has dropped in recent years.)
“It’s not fun for the parent or the child to have to undergo local anesthetic to have a tooth filled or removed,” says Dr. LaQuia Vinson, a board-certified pediatric dentist and assistant director of the residency program in pediatric dentistry at Riley Hospital for Children.
These three tips can help you keep your kids’ teeth healthy.
1. Establish good brushing habits.
Some experts advise starting to clean a baby’s mouth even before the first teeth appear, using a warm, damp cloth. This gets little ones used to the idea of cleaning their teeth.
When kids are toddlers, look for ways to make brushing as fun as possible, Vinson said. “Sing songs or play music to help kids hit the two-minute brushing goal.” You also should supervise your kids’ brushing habits until at least age eight. Make sure they use only a small amount of toothpaste and brush every tooth.
2. Limit problem foods.
Smart eating habits can help keep kids’ teeth healthy, as well. Many foods and drinks targeted at children have large amounts of sugar, and ostensibly healthy snacks may have more sugar than you expect. Vinson recommends limiting drinks other than water between meals and reserving juice or other drinks “with a color” for mealtime.
Read the labels of what children are eating. Gummy vitamins, dried fruit and organic snacks all have sugar that often gets overlooked, Vinson said, and liquid medicines such as antibiotics, cough syrup and antihistamines also are a potential source of sugar. Limit sugary snacks and encourage children to drink water or brush after consuming them.
3. Get regular checkups.
Regular checkups can help keep baby teeth healthy and build a strong foundation for healthy adult teeth. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children visit a dentist for their first checkup by age 1 and then go in twice a year for checkups and cleanings. Your dentist may recommend sealants if your child’s baby teeth have deep grooves in them, and they can help you determine which toothpaste is best.
Losing baby teeth to decay can lead to poor nutrition, difficulty in speaking clearly and problems with adult teeth.
“Tooth decay, even in baby teeth, can impact the strength and health of permanent teeth before they come in,” Vinson says, adding she’s seen 2-year-olds dealing with tooth decay. Building good dental habits now will help keep baby teeth healthy and set the stage for strong adult teeth.
This post is based on content that first appeared in SmileInSight by Starmount.