It’s never too early to focus on taking care of teeth
Since February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, it’s a great time to “brush up” on the basics with kids about good dental habits. If you’re a parent, or studying to be a Dental Assistant, you’ll want to keep this information in mind when you’re dealing with young ones.
The campaign slogan for the month is “Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste and clean between your teeth for a healthy smile.” This advice may seem like basic dental facts, but it’s essential for kids to put this into practice every day if they want to enjoy a lifetime of healthy teeth.
There are a number of ways that adults can support the young people they encounter in taking care of their teeth. Here are some dental tips for parents and other caregivers:
1. Child dental care tips: It all starts with the baby teeth
Even babies need to go to the dentist, starting at about one year of age. You want to instill good dental habits from the get-go, since they will need to care for their teeth for a lifetime! You might think that because baby teeth fall out, you don't need to worry about caring for them, but tooth decay is a problem for babies too. If a tooth falls out too early, because of tooth decay, an adult tooth could move into the empty space it leaves behind. This can lead to problems down the line when the other adult teeth need to come in.
Make an appointment for the first dental appointment close to the baby’s first birthday. At this visit, the dentist will check the teeth for any problems, such as tooth decay, as well as do a cleaning and provide tips on tooth care. This is also a time to discuss pacifiers, thumb sucking, or other habits that can have an effect on the teeth.
2. Teach kids the right way to brush
The American Dental Association suggests that caregivers help kids with caring for their teeth since, left to their own devices, they aren’t likely to do a great job. The years up to age 6, when they can probably brush effectively, are important ones! A model of a mouth might be the easiest way to show this, but as long as you have a toothbrush you can demonstrate the proper technique. Here are some guidelines:
- Up to age 3: Look for that first tooth, and then find a child-sized toothbrush with very soft bristles. Brushing every morning and every evening should become the habit from the start. It’s essential you use a toothpaste with fluoride, but you only need a tiny bit—an amount about the size of a grain of rice. Monitor the brushing, so you’re aware of how much toothpaste the child is ingesting. You want to teach them to spit out the toothpaste.
- Ages 3–6: Now it’s okay to use a bit more toothpaste—about the size of a pea. The child may be brushing on their own, but you still want to supervise until you’re confident they can do a thorough job. Always remind the child not to swallow the toothpaste, and to keep on spitting! Soon the child may have two teeth that are close together, and this is a good time to show them how to floss. You’ll floss for them, though, for now, once a day. Keep up the twice-a-day brushing routine, too.
- Ages 6 and older: Check in on the child’s brushing routine and make sure they are doing it well, both evening and night, with a once-a-day flossing in there, too. If they start trying to rush through the process, work with them to slow down, and remind them how to do it right. You want to instill in them the idea that these are techniques they will rely on throughout their entire lives!
3. Emphasize the morning and evening routine
It’s good to talk with kids about why they need to brush in the morning and again before they go to bed. It’s the key to maintaining a healthy smile! The night time brushing only counts if they don’t have anything to eat or drink afterwards (except water). A helpful tip can be to have kids brush soon after dinner, rather than waiting until just before bedtime, when they can be tired or fussy.
4. Watch out for the beverages
Food isn’t the only thing that can wreak havoc on kids’ teeth. Drinks can take their toll, too, especially if they are sugary. Even juice can seem healthy but leave a coating on the teeth that can contribute to tooth decay. Water is always a better option, and soda should be pretty much out of the question—except on a special occasion (and they need to brush afterwards!).
Just how much juice is appropriate for kids to drink every day? Here are guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):
- ages 6 and under: less than 4 to 6 oz. (one small glass)
- ages 7–18: less than 8 to 12 oz. (one large glass)
If a child is drinking a lot more juice than this, encourage the switch to water.
5. Avoid tooth-unfriendly foods
You might know that foods that are high in sugar and acid can do a number on your teeth. You want to help kids do what they can to avoid prolonged exposure to these same foods. Here are tips to keep in mind:
- Don’t ever dip a pacifier in juice, honey, sugar, or other sweetener. It can lead to tooth decay.
- Avoid letting a child fall asleep while breastfeeding or with a bottle. You want the child’s mouth to be clear of milk before they fall asleep.
- Stay away from sugary drinks such as soda and sports drinks.
- Hard candy, cough drops, and chewy candies should be a rare treat or used sparingly.
- Avoid snack foods like pretzels and chips that can get caught in the teeth. Kids are not as good as adults as picking out the pieces that get stuck in the back molars, so you want to encourage them to brush soon after they eat these kinds of foods.
Of course it’s also good to ramp-up on the healthy foods in a child’s diet. Cheese and milk are high in calcium, meats and nuts have protein, firm and crunchy fruits and vegetables are great for them to bite down on and enjoy. If the child enjoys chewing gum, then sugarless gum is a good way to remove food that can get caught in the teeth. It also increases the flow of saliva, which can help to wash away the sugars and acids that can cause trouble. But no sugary gum, ever!
6. Find resources for dental care
If you’re seeking affordable dental care for children, check out this searchable database from the ADA. Enter your zip code to find a dental clinic near you that may offer care at a reduced price. If children are insured through the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program or Medicaid, there may be participating dentists in the area. Visit http://www.insurekidsnow.gov/ to find out more.
7. Don’t forget to smile!
One lovely benefit of taking the time to keep your teeth healthy is a nice bright smile. Inspire the children in your life to smile every day!
For more dental tips, try:
We hope you’ve found the information in this article useful as you learn about caring for children’s teeth. National Children’s Dental Health Month should inspire you to learn more! For details and additional information, visit the American Dental Association’s website. If you’re working towards being a dental assistant, keep up the fight of promoting good dental health with your younger patients all year long!
This post is part of the weekly blog of Seacoast Career Schools. If you’re looking for dental assistant schools in New Hampshire, learn more about the dental assistant program at Seacoast. It’s easy to get started. Reach out to us online or call us at 800-758-7679 to learn more. We also invite you to schedule a tour of one of our two campuses, in Manchester, NH, and Sanford, ME. We look forward to hearing from you!