Could there be anything more precious than your child’s smile?
Preserving and protecting that smile should be on the top of your list of priorities, yet oral health is often overlooked by many parents. It’s understandable — you have so many things to deal with, and worrying about preventing cavities just seems to get away from you. Besides, they’re just baby teeth, right?
Even baby teeth are important. Baby teeth serve as spacers to maintain the proper alignment for permanent teeth. And that’s not all: children with healthy mouths chew more easily and gain more nutrients from the foods they eat. They learn to speak more quickly and clearly. Plus, a healthy mouth is more attractive, giving children confidence in their appearance.
If you’re not taking the best care of your child’s teeth, you are certainly are not alone. For the first time in 40 years, dentists are seeing an increased number of children with multiple cavities, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Along with this alarming trend is an increased number of children who require hospital admittance and general anesthesia to treat their extensive cavities and tooth decay.
Teaching your child proper oral care at a young age is an investment in his health. To mark Children’s Dental Health Month in February, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry offers this advice:
• Set a good example. Taking good care of your own teeth sends a message that oral health is important. In addition, cavity-causing germs can be transmitted through contact — like when your baby puts his hands in your mouth and then in his own mouth, or if you share cups or utensils. That’s why it’s so important to keep your own teeth and gums healthy.
• Be smart at bedtime. Do not nurse a young child to sleep or put him to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, juice, or any sweetened liquid. As a child sleeps, any unswallowed liquid in the mouth feeds bacteria that produce acids and attack the teeth. Protect your child from severe tooth decay by putting him to bed with nothing more than a bottle of water or a pacifier. And never dip a pacifier in sugar or honey — day or night.
• Attack plaque. Plaque is a sticky film of germs that forms on teeth and gums after eating or drinking, which is why brushing twice a day is so important. To ensure children’s teeth are properly brushed, parents of toddlers should do it for them with a soft brush by using a circular or wiggling motion on all tooth surfaces, especially where the tooth meets the gum line. Even once kids are old enough to do their own brushing, parents should watch over the process until children are at least 8 years old.
• Use the right tools. Clean a baby’s gums regularly with a clean gauze pad even before any teeth have erupted. This will accustom your baby to an oral care routine, plus reduce the bacteria in your child’s mouth. For toddlers, use a small, soft-bristled brush with only a smear of toothpaste so that they don’t swallow it. Once children can spit, use a pea-sized portion of toothpaste so they don’t absorb too much fluoride. Remember to replace toothbrushes every three to four months — and even sooner if the bristles are worn out, or if your children have been sick.
• Floss daily. It is important to remove plaque from between the teeth and under the gum line before it can harden into tartar. Flossing removes food and plaque between teeth that brushing misses. You should floss for your children beginning at age 4. By the time they reach age 8, most kids can begin flossing for themselves.
• Eat well. Children must have a balanced diet for their teeth and gums to develop properly. Equally important is a diet high in certain kinds of carbohydrates. Other foods, such as sugar and starches, may place your child at dental risk. Limit starchy or sugary foods, which produce plaque acids that cause tooth decay.
Choose wisely. Use dental products that contain fluoride, including toothpaste, and visit a dentist regularly.
KiKi Bochi, an award-winning journalist, reads hundreds of reports monthly to bring readers the latest insights on family health and child development.
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