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Caring for your child's teeth

Opening wide for the dentist
Opening wide for the dentist
Courtesy S. Peck

Every February is National Children's Oral Health Month. Oral health is an important part of good overall health, and it's an often overlooked part of a child's health. Poor oral health in childhood can have major impacts well into adulthood and lead to a person developing the all to common fear many adults have when contemplating a trip to the dentist. It's important to get your child started with good habits and show them visits to the dentist aren't always about painful drilling.

Oral care starts even before baby teeth appear. Many experts recommend gently wiping a babies gums with water and a clean washcloth after each feeding. By toddler age children should be brushing twice per day with a soft bristled toothbrush. As toddlers get older and more capable they should be encouraged to brush their own teeth, but parents should also help until the child is at least school age and trustworthy at the task. Many pediatrician and dentists also recommend not allowing your baby or toddler to have milk or juice bottles in the bed with them overnight because this can lead to tooth decay if they fall asleep with a mouthful of milk or juice.

Most experts recommend using water to clean your infants teeth but at some point it is best to start using fluoride toothpaste. Exactly when to begin this is something of a controversy. Fluoride is present in most adult toothpastes and has been shown to prevent tooth decay. However it isn't recommended for very young children because most municipal water supplies have fluoride added. The general guideline is to begin using fluoride toothpaste when your child can be relied on to spit it out rather than swallowing, but it is best to check with your pediatrician or dentist to decide when to begin.

Most pediatrician include an examination of a child's mouth and teeth in the standard, regularly scheduled, checkups most children receive. However, it's also good to start annual or semi-annual visits to a dentist around the age of 1 or 2. Most dental offices will spend the first visit or two familiarizing the child with the office and equipment so that she is comfortable letting the staff 'count her teeth'.

If you have trouble convincing your toddlers to brush their teeth you might try some of these tips:

  • Get a toothbrush in your child's favorite color or with their favorite cartoon character.
  • Find a flavor of toddler (non-fluoride) toothpaste that your child likes.
  • Brush their teeth when your brush your own. Make a game or race from it.
  • Use the tooth brush while in the bath tub. If your child likes the tub you can mention that teeth need to be cleaned just like the rest of her.
  • Promise to let him do it himself after you finish brushing his teeth.

Do you have tips or tricks for convincing your kids to brush their teeth? Please share with the rest of us in the comments.


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