National Children’s Dental Health Month: Good oral hygiene starts early

To help spread awareness of proper dental care, February is marked as National Children’s Dental Health Month. And good oral health starts in early.

Dr. Melissa Morrow, DDS, a pediatric dentist in Haslett says to ensure children have a good habit with brushing their teeth, the parents have to be taking care of their own.

“The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that the parents are taking care of themselves initially,” said Morrow. “And parents should start taking care of their children right away, by wiping the inside of the mouth with a cloth (before they have teeth).”

By age one, the child should be seen by a dentist, and parents and child should be brushing twice a day.

Morrow says that the proper technique to brush a kids teeth is to make sure the brush is getting at the gum line to remove the plaque, and on the front and back of the teeth.

While it may be easy when the child first starts to get teeth and only has one or two, once they have them all come in it may be hard if the habit is not formed early.

“It gets to be easier once they develop that habit,” said Morrow. “Some kids may argue with their parents, and that is common. But if you can make it a game, make it fun, it will usually lighten it up.”

Parents should continue to brush their child’s teeth until the child has the fine motor skills to do a good job, Morrow said, which is typically around age 6 to 7.

“You really have to monitor the mouth of a child. If they like to do it (on their own), I encourage and foster the independence, but it has to be done with coaching and guidance and parents have to be actively engaged in it,” said Morrow. “The more you do with a child at an early age, the less you are going to have of arguing as they get older. It will become routine.”

The mouth of a child is like an adult’s, just smaller, Morrow said. They can get gingivitis, tooth decay and gum disease. And surprisingly, Tooth decay is prevalent among children.

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, nearly one in three children ages two to five in the United States are affected by tooth decay.

One reason it may be hard to tell if a child is suffering from tooth decay at an early age is because they do not know how to communicate it.

“They sometimes do not tell you my teeth are hurting, they just won’t eat,” said Morrow. “It is also that they may not be eating the right things. Eat wise, eat healthy, floss and exercise, that is our message.”

While kids will lose their baby teeth, they do not lose them until about age six, Morrow said. And the back chewing teeth will exchanged out when the child is around 11 years old.

“You need to maintain those teeth for a longer period of time than some people may think, and they need something healthy to chew on,” Morrow said. “But if the bad habits are taught at an early age, then it is just setting the state for future problems.”

The AAPD says that tooth decay is preventable, and they have some tips on how to keep the decay at bay.

1. When it comes to sugary treats and beverages, it’s how often, not how much. 

Children (or adults for that matter) shouldn’t graze or savor candy and sugary drinks (including, sports drinks and juice). That prolonged exposure to sugar and acid can wreak havoc on teeth. Instead, stick to designated meal and snack times and have them drink plenty of water throughout the day.
2. Don’t put babies to bed with a bottle. 

Milk and juice contain sugar. When babies are put to bed with a bottle of milk (or juice), the sugar from the milk coats their teeth the entire time they are sleeping causing tooth decay which is deemed “Baby Bottle Tooth Decay.” If a bottle works to soothe a baby before sleep, opt for filling it with water.

3. Wean children off of their pacifier by age three. 

It is completely normal for children to sooth themselves with a pacifier, however, prolonged use of a pacifier can increase the risk of cavities, and can affect the way a child’s teeth bite together, sometimes causing an overbite. Talk to your pediatric dentist who can assist in encouraging children to stop a sucking habit and discuss each child’s particular situation.

4. Avoid topical teething gels and rings. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strongly warns against using teething gels that contain benzocaine or lidocaine because they can seriously harm your child. Parents and caregivers should stay away from teething rings too, which contain chemicals and low levels of BPA – despite labels citing otherwise – that can be harmful to your child.

For children, proper dental care starts with the parents or caregiver, as they are the child’s role models.

“It is important for a child to see the parents doing what they are being told to do,” said Morrow. “They want to do what their parents are doing. Be open about it so they can see it, and then they will want to do it.”

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