At what age should I start cleaning my child's teeth at home?
Start cleaning your baby’s teeth as soon as they appear in their mouth. Some children have teeth present at birth or have teeth erupt very early in life, and as soon as teeth are exposed to the mouth, cavities can start to form. Many parents start getting their infants used to the sensation of brushing by rubbing a soft washcloth along the gums before any teeth appear – use some cool water or freeze it for some teething relief. Once a tooth appears, use a soft toothbrush with a “smear” (about the size of a single grain of rice) of fluoridated toothpaste to help prevent cavities. Keep in mind that children will have a hard time adequately brushing their teeth until they have developed significant hand coordination, around the time they are able to tie their own shoes. After this, it’s still a good idea to check their brushing and help them with flossing until they have shown you they have mastered it.
What is the recommended age for a child's first dental visit?
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends all children see a dentist by their first birthday. It’s a good idea to book a first dental visit when the first tooth comes in, but at the latest by the time they turn one. The earlier the dental visit, the better parents and dentists are able to prevent cavities.
What can parents expect during that first visit?
It is totally normal for a young child to cry! Your child’s dentist will probably have you hold your child while they examine their teeth, gums, and remaining areas of the mouth for any abnormalities or signs of cavities. The dentist will show you tips on brushing and, if applicable, flossing for your child. They will also review dietary recommendations to help prevent dental disease in your child. The dentist will address any questions and give you personalized recommendations to ensure your child has proper dental care at home and with the dentist going forward.
How often should I bring my child to the dentist?
Your dentist will review the best intervals for your child to be seen, which will be individualized based on your child’s risk of developing cavities. For many children at low risk of developing cavities, this will be every six months for a cleaning and a check-up. However, if your child has any developing cavities or other conditions that indicate closer monitoring, your dentist may recommend more frequent visits.
I have a hard time getting my child interested in brushing their teeth at home, even if assisted. What are some tips to making this more fun?
Finding a toothpaste that your child likes can really help with this. There are so many flavors of children’s toothpaste that exist – from bubble gum to chocolate to strawberry. Allowing your child to pick their favorite flavor can help them look forward to brushing. Many children like to assert their independence, so allowing a two-to-three-year-old child (and beyond) have a “turn” brushing their teeth can help some children tolerate brushing, as long as it is followed by a parent’s turn to ensure that the plaque and food are adequately removed. If your child is still resistant to brushing, ask your dentist for tips on the best positions to help your child to brush. Starting a habit early is the easiest way to prevent a daily struggle, which brings us back to the importance of starting to brush early in life and establishing a dental home by the first birthday.
What can parents be doing to help their children avoid cavities?
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry both recommend children under one year of age have no juice or sugary beverages. After the first year, limiting sugary beverages to 4 ounces of 100% fruit juice is the daily recommended maximum, although whole fruit is always a healthier choice. For kids who love juice, making juice a treat that accompanies a meal will help prevent cavities. Instead of allowing your child to sip juice from their sippy cup throughout the day, have a small glass of juice available to them with lunch or dinner. For cavities, the frequency of this “sugar bath” on the teeth is a very important factor. Avoiding sticky candies or snacks, including fruit snacks, can also prevent cavities, as these foods tend to stick to the teeth much longer than other foods and continue to feed the bacteria that cause cavities. Finally, it is very important to start proper oral hygiene from birth or at least the time of the first tooth eruption. Brushing twice daily for two minutes with a soft toothbrush and fluoridated toothpaste is imperative to preventing cavities. A smear of toothpaste is enough for children age 0 to 2 and is safe for children who can’t be relied on to spit out the excess. At three years old, children should use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Once the teeth start touching each other, introduce flossing to your child. Floss picks can help make flossing easier for parents.
My child sucks their thumb. Should I be concerned?
Sucking is a natural reflex for infants and young children and can help children feel calm, secure, and help with falling asleep. Many children break sucking habits naturally by two to four years of age. However, as children get older, thumb, finger, or pacifier sucking can start to change the growth and development of the teeth and jaws. To prevent permanent changes, it is recommended that children stop sucking habits by three years of age. Sometimes, children will stop due to peer influence once they start school, or a comforting alternative (like a favorite stuffed animal) can help replace the habit. If your child has a difficult time breaking the habit, ask their dentist for recommendations. A pediatric dentist can talk to older children about the reasons to stop a sucking habit and, in certain cases, can make an appliance that will help to remind the child to break the habit.