Set Your Kids Up for Success in Caring for Their Teeth

By Barbara Pierce

For many parents, getting our kids to brush their teeth is a battle not unlike getting them to eat their broccoli or go to bed on time.

We know that establishing good habits in taking care of their teeth is important. But is there an easier way to do it, to set our kids up for success when it comes to their teeth?

Here are some tips that you might find helpful from the Mohawk Valley Health System website:

Your baby is born with 20 teeth below the gums, and they usually start coming through between 6 months and a year. Most children have their full set of teeth by 3 years old.

Baby teeth are very important to your child — helping them chew, speak and smile. They also hold space in the jaws for permanent teeth that are growing under the gums. When a baby tooth is lost too early, the permanent teeth can drift into the empty space and make it difficult for adult teeth to find room when they come in. This can make teeth crooked or crowded.

As their teeth come in, some babies may become fussy, sleepless and irritable, lose their appetite or drool more than usual. Diarrhea, rashes and a fever are not caused by teething.

Cleaning Your Child’s Teeth: Begin cleaning your baby’s mouth during the first few days after birth by wiping the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth after eating. As soon as teeth appear, decay can occur.

Start brushing the teeth as soon as they begin to appear. Use a small amount of toothpaste—like a grain of rice. Brush teeth twice a day with a child-sized toothbrush,
Make sure you’re setting a good example, that your child sees you enjoying brushing your teeth.

Until you’re comfortable that your child can brush on his or her own, continue to brush your child’s teeth twice a day with a child-size toothbrush and a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. When your child has two teeth that touch, begin flossing to clean between their teeth daily.

Fluoride makes teeth more resistant to things that cause decay, reducing the risk of cavities. The Mohawk Valley system provides drinking water with a controlled, low level of fluoride for dental health protection.

Supervise children’s brushing and remind them not to swallow the toothpaste. Replace your child’s toothbrush every three to four months.

When to see the dentist: As soon as your child’s first tooth appears, or no later than the first birthday, schedule a dental visit. Although the first visit is mainly for the dentist to examine your child’s mouth and to check growth and development, it’s also about your child being comfortable. To make the visit positive, consider a morning appointment when children tend to be rested and cooperative. Keep any anxiety or concerns you have to yourself and never use a dental visit as a punishment or threat.

Reduce cavities: Cavities in young children has become the most common chronic childhood disease, impacting more children than asthma. Kids who suffer from poor oral health are three times more likely to miss school as a result of dental pain.

Cavities and tooth decay are preventable. Fluoride varnish can prevent about one-third of cavities in baby teeth. Children living in communities with fluoridated tap water have fewer cavities than children whose water is not fluoridated. Children who brush daily with fluoride toothpaste have fewer cavities. Applying dental sealants to the molars can prevent 80% of cavities.

A significant risk for infants is from baby bottle tooth decay. Liquids that contribute to this condition include milk, formula, fruit juice, soda, and any other sweetened drinks. If your child needs to sleep with a bottle, water is the best option.

Reduce sugar intake: Sugar is the ‘food’ for the bacteria that cause tooth decay. When you eat sugary foods or sip sugary drinks, bacteria use that sugar to produce acids that attack your teeth. Most carbonated soft drinks, including diet soda, are acidic and bad for your teeth.

When choosing a snack for your kids, keep an eye on sugar content. Avoid added sweeteners like corn syrup. Fruit rollups and dried fruit snacks are like candy, but worse than candy because particles stick to your teeth.

Because juice is high in sugar and calories, water and milk are always the best options for your child. In fact, if your child is under 1 year old, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests completely removing juice from their diet.

Older children can occasionally drink juice in small amounts. Allowing your child to sip on juice throughout the day puts him or her at higher risk for tooth decay because you’re giving that cavity-causing bacteria more opportunities to eat and produce the acid that eats away at teeth.