The importance of establishing good oral health habits early on in your child’s life, cannot be overstated. You can help keep your child from getting tooth decay by starting their dental care early.
Ideally your child should see a dentist by the age of 1 or 2 years old. Starting preventative dental care for your child at a young age, before any problems have set in, has been shown to reduce the cost of dental care in children over a 5 year period, by nearly 40%.
But even before you take your child to the dentist, you should establish preventative oral care when they are babies. Do not put your infant, or older child, down for bedtime or a nap with a bottle of formula, milk or juice. Sugary liquids will cling to your child’s newly erupting teeth, feeding the bacteria that can cause tooth decay.
If you must give your child a bottle to go to bed, make sure that it only contains water.
Establish some good habits as your child uses a sippy cup before moving on to drinking from a glass. Sippy cups can be very helpful in this transition to drinking from a glass. But do not allow your child to drink from a sippy cup all day long, as using it too much will expose your child’s teeth to a constant onslaught of sugary liquids, unless it is a cup of water. This constant exposure to bacteria feeding sugars can lead to decay forming on the back side of his or her front teeth.
While we’re on the topic of sugary drinks, it is wise to limit the amount of juice you give to your child. Many parents believe that juice is a healthy drink for their child and often allow it to be consumed all day long. Unfortunately it can lead to tooth decay. Limit juice consumption to 4 oz a day. Try to give not sugary drinks and foods at meal times, only offering juice as an occasional treat.
If your child uses a pacifier, it is a good idea to wean them off of it by age 2 or 3. A pacifier can be very helpful for lots of reasons. But used in the long term it can affect how your child’s teeth line up, it can also change the shape of their mouth. If your child is still using a pacifier after the age of 3, it may be a good idea to discuss the matter with your child’s doctor.
Establish good oral hygiene habits before your child even has any teeth. You can gently wash your baby’s gums with a wet washcloth or use a baby toothbrush. When your child’s teeth begin to erupt, brush their teeth twice a day with an infant toothbrush. Start flossing when two of their teeth are touching. Brush and floss before bedtime and do not allow any food or drink afterwards, unless it’s water.
As your child gets older, stand firm on brushing and flossing. If your child resists brushing and flossing, do not let them off the hook. A child can begin brushing and flossing with adult help around age 2 or 3, but may not be ready to go at it alone until age 6 or older. Mastering flossing skills may not happen until age 10 or after. And even after that brushing and flossing for most kids will likely require monitoring by a parent. Stand firm on these rules. It is not worth the oral health problems that can follow for simply not teaching your child to brush and floss regularly.