February is National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM), so it’s a great time to brush up on dental hygiene for children. Kids often need a little extra help with personal care, relying on parents, educators, and their Mt. Pleasant dentist to encourage healthy brushing habits.
This year’s slogan for National Children’s Dental Health Month is “Brush and clean in between to build a healthy smile.” Simply getting the majority of children brushing their teeth twice a day would be a great achievement in preventing tooth decay, the most common chronic illness in children.
As parents, brushing has become so routine that we forget how complex it can be. Adults fly right through it on autopilot, but children still need things broken down into simple steps they can follow. They are still learning about the importance of brushing and flossing and how to do it properly.
Consider these tips to help teach your kids healthy habits for life and reinforce good dental hygiene.
Brush and Clean in Between to Build a Healthy Smile
Be a Role Model
There are few things that will serve your family better than turning dental care into a family affair. When children see their parents floss, it emphasizes the importance of the routine and it becomes a grown-up thing to do. Model the ideal behavior yourself, and your children will follow. We recommend helping children with their nighttime oral hygiene until about age ten to ensure they are doing it properly.
Your kids don’t have to copy your Paleo diet to learn the importance of nutrition. I’m a big fan of letting kids be kids, but it’s also important to educate our families about healthy eating. A good foundation to start with is limiting sugar and carbohydrate intake, including juice and soft drinks, particularly at bedtime.
Give Them Some Control
A useful parenting technique is to give children the illusion of choice. They have to brush their teeth, but if you make a big deal out of letting them choose their toothbrush and flavor of toothpaste, they’ll be more compliant. It’s simple to keep several choices of fluoride toothpaste on hand (with their favorite characters on display), and it pays dividends.
Some of the fancier electric toothbrushes have timers built in, but any standard egg timer will do the trick. You can even go the extra mile to get a two-minute dental timer or use a mobile app to play a song. Just ensure that your children are brushing for at least two minutes, twice a day.
Consistency Is Key
To help your kids build a lifetime habit, it’s important to be consistent. They receive mixed messages if one night you make a big deal out flossing and the next night it slips your mind. Establish a regular routine and make sure dental health plays a key part in it. You can even use goal charts to help them track their progress, with rewards for consistency.
Advice for New Parents From the AAPD
Sometimes the amount of information and debate that comes out can be overwhelming to parents of young children. Modern media frequently present headlines with misleading information, such as articles about how there’s no need to floss and that fluoride is bad for you. Trust your dental professionals with your oral health more than sensation-seeking headlines.
Former American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) President Dr. Jade Miller adds his thoughts to the conversation:
“Parents are bombarded with unsolicited advice and health findings that are constantly changing. We don’t want to add to that stress, but there are a few common misconceptions, that if cleared up, could help make a huge difference in your child’s oral health – which is linked to their overall health and wellness.”
As tooth decay is nearly 100 percent preventable, what are a few fundamental things that young parents should know about children’s dental health? The AAPD gives these five tips:
- When it comes to sugary treats and beverages, it’s how often, not how much. Grazing on candy or soda throughout the day leads to prolonged sugar exposure, which greatly increases kids’ risk of tooth decay. Instead, sticking to designated meal and snack times can help minimize the risk.
- Don’t put babies to bed with a bottle. Many new parents are completely oblivious to “baby bottle tooth decay,” now known as early childhood caries. Milk contains sugar, which means that the baby’s young teeth are being attacked by acids from that sugar all night. Give water rather than juice or milk as a thirst quencher for your baby.
- Wean children off their pacifiers by age four. Prolonged use of a pacifier (and thumb sucking) can increase the risk of cavities and interfere with the normal development of the jaws and teeth.
- Avoid topical teething gels and frozen teething rings. The FDA warns against the use of teething gels to numb sore gums because they contain benzocaine or lidocaine, which could cause severe health problems or death. Even teething rings can be harmful when frozen, as they become brittle and prone to breaking. If you want to chill a teething ring, keep it in the refrigerator – not the freezer.
- Schedule regular dental visits. Infants should make their first dental visit by their first birthday or the time that their first tooth comes in. After that, the AAPD recommends that children visit their dentist twice per year for cleanings and checkups.
Don’t Forget the Basics
Tooth decay is the number one chronic childhood illness, and it can result in more than just a cavity or two. If left untreated, it can cause malnourishment, bacterial infections, and impediments to eating, speaking, and learning.
The good news about childhood tooth decay is that it’s preventable. That’s why we observe National Children’s Dental Health Month in the first place – because we know awareness leads to prevention, and prevention makes all the difference in the world.
Dr. Randy Pagenkopf