Early dental care is essential for ensuring a bright and healthy future. It’s also important for “beating the statistics,” including:
- American children miss 51 million school hours because of dental problems
- Over 40% of children have cavities by kindergarten
- 17.5% of children aged 5-19 have untreated cavities
- Preventable dental visits to the ER cost millions annually, in Massachusetts alone
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, a great time to focus on kids’ oral health. Here are 5 tips to help protect your child’s smile for years to come.
1) Don’t Overlook Baby Teeth: It’s easy to underestimate the importance of primary teeth. Yes, baby teeth will fall out, but you still have to take care of them. Decay can spread to permanent teeth that are forming underneath or even to the gums. And the bacteria that harms teeth doesn’t go away when primary teeth fall out. The American Dental Association recommends kids have their first dental visit after their first baby teeth come in and before their first birthday. Home care should begin as soon as the first tooth emerges. Click here to learn more.
2) Get The Tooth Fairy On Your Side: When baby teeth first become loose and “wiggly,” it’s a great time to remind kids how important oral hygiene is. A simple comment at bedtime can go a long way: “You know, the Tooth Fairy can tell if you brush your teeth.” In other words, let the Tooth Fairy do for dental care what Santa and the Elf on the Shelf do for good behavior in general.
An effective follow-up: “When your new tooth comes in, you’ll never grow another one in that spot. You have to be really good about taking care of your big kid teeth, because you’ll have them when you’re a grownup.”
Primary teeth typically begin to fall out around age 6 or 7, often starting with the lower center teeth. (Fun side note: The Tooth Fairy is paying more than ever, according to a nationwide poll. Click here to learn more.)
3) Make It Fun: There’s a reason why our office provides kid-friendly toothpaste flavors. It’s the same reason we demonstrate brushing on cute, toothy stuffed animals and why kids can pick a toy from our toy chest after every visit.
Put simply, children like it! These little touches, and others like them, create a positive feeling about dental health. Let’s face it, kids pay attention to things that are fun. They’re more likely to absorb what you tell them – and actually stick to their oral hygiene routine – if they don’t feel like it’s a chore.
Try setting your child’s two-minute brushing session to music, such as these song options. Let them choose their own toothbrush and toothpaste flavor at the store. Consider using an electric brush – in addition to tracking the two-minute brushing time, kids get a kick out of them.
4) Prevent Growing Pains: How do you help older kids take responsibility for their own dental care? This can be a challenge, even in families that established great habits during early childhood. Try to encourage independence as children get older. For example, save appointments to their smartphone calendar as well as yours.
Many older teens can handle going to an after-school hygiene visit without a parent. Ask our hygienist to provide your teen with a “Continuing Care Report Card,” which provides a checklist of what occurred during the visit and recommendations for future care. That way, a teen learns to handle dental visits solo, while the parent stays in the loop.
As they reach college age, encourage young adults to book their own appointments. Our office can set up appointment reminders to go to your child by text and to you by email, if you feel like they need an extra reminder. If your child lives on-campus at college, have them contact Future of Dentistry in advance to book their hygiene visits during winter and summer breaks.
5) Don’t Overlook Diet: Diet is one of the most underrated ways of promoting a healthy smile. Food and drinks that are heavy on sugar/carbs or acid can profoundly affect your child’s teeth, now and in the future.
What’s healthy for your body is usually healthy for your teeth, with rare exceptions. Minimize sugar intake, and encourage kids to brush after eating sweet snacks. If they can’t brush, drinking and rinsing with water will at least help.
For beverages, juice is a common culprit. Though it’s nutritious, it’s high in sugar and in some cases in acidity. Try limiting juice to the morning and evening, when your child will be brushing soon afterward. Energy drinks and sports waters are some of the worst offenders when it comes to damaging enamel. Click here to learn more about the acidity of popular energy and sports beverages.