February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and there is no better time than now to learn how to advocate for optimal oral health in our youth.
“Children’s teeth are meant to last a lifetime, and a healthy smile is important to a child’s self esteem. With a balanced diet, proper care, and regular dental visits, their teeth can remain healthy and strong.” - Dr. Weston Hafner
One of the most important factors of oral health in children is eating habits. If you choose to let your child consume sugary foods and drinks, reduce risk of decay by having them do so with meals. Saliva production increases during meals and helps neutralize acid production and rinse food particles from the mouth. Another helpful tip is to limit between-meal snacks. If kids crave a snack, offer them nutritious foods, such as apples, carrots, or popcorn versus foods with refined sugars. If your kids chew gum instead of snacking between meals, make it sugarless! Chewing sugarless gum after eating can increase saliva flow and help wash out food and decay-producing acid. Finally, monitor beverage consumption and help your children make healthy beverage choices such as water and low-fat milk.
Another important factor of oral health in children is proper home care and regular dental check ups. Help your children develop good brushing and flossing habits by introducing an age appropriate toothbrush as soon as teeth begin appearing in the mouth. Children need help brushing their teeth until approximately age six, or until they are able to tie their own shoes. Children under age 6 lack the dexterity needed to adequately clean all surfaces of their teeth. Oral care routines should be completed twice per day, but in the event that one of the routines is missed, making sure the nighttime brushing and flossing occurs is very important. Debris from the day that is not brushed away before bedtime allows bacteria to more easily cause cavities. In addition to home care, it is essential that children establish a “dental home” early in life. Scheduling regular dental visits as early as teeth begin appearing, or one year of age, can help to familiarize children with the dental environment. As your child grows and allows, the dental hygienist will be able to clean your child’s teeth, help teach your child proper brushing and flossing techniques, and apply fluoride to the teeth to help prevent new cavities from forming. Having the dentist perform regular check ups on your child ensures that your child does not have untreated dental cavities, and helps to optimize oral development as the baby teeth are lost and permanent teeth begin erupting.
“It is extremely important to us that we do everything we can to help children become comfortable at the dental office beginning at an early age. Great oral health early in life often transitions into good habits that help for a lifetime. They may not like visiting at first, but once they have been here a few times, children tend to cooperate very well, especially with positive reinforcements from parents.”