Good Habits Start Early

Oral health education is vital if we want to prevent early childhood tooth decay and gum disease, both of which have been shown to affect general health for a lifetime. In fact, we encourage our patients to keep their children’s teeth healthy even before birth by looking after their own oral health. There are two reasons for this. The first is that expectant mothers with poor oral health may be at greater risk of developing toxemia or gestational diabetes, and their babies may be born prematurely and/or have a low birth weight. The second is that once babies arrive, parents can actually transmit oral bacteria to them simply by kissing, and later on by blowing on their food or sharing eating utensils.

Although a first dental visit won’t happen until about age one (approximately 6 months after the first tooth), it’s crucial to establish good home care early. While it may seem odd to clean your infant’s gums with a clean damp cloth after each feeding, it’s an excellent routine to get into. It is healthy for the gums and a clean mouth is less likely to create bacteria that could cause cavities even before first teeth come through. This is to avoid baby bottle tooth decay caused by milk, juice, or sweetened liquid at naptime or bedtime, and to avoid teeth and bite misalignment due to sucking. The same bite issues exist with pacifiers, fingers, and thumbs, common comforts which often continue after weaning.

As soon as the first teeth come in, we usually suggest brushing them with a small soft-bristled toothbrush and water. We don’t generally recommend toothpaste before age two, but during visits we can help with choosing the right time to start and the right toothpaste to use. Children can be sensitive to strong or spicy flavors like peppermint and cinnamon, so we always recommend a mild-tasting one and using only a pea-sized amount. Fluoridated pastes should be kept where kids can’t get at them without your help.

We think that one of life’s little pleasures is taking your child shopping for a fancy child-sized brush and letting them pick one out. It’s worth tossing in that extra buck for a cartoon character, just to see their faces! At home, set up a little stool so they can look in the mirror “eye to eye” and reach the faucet without stretching. What a milestone! Good brushing takes at least three minutes, which is a long time for a child to focus, so it’s okay to work up to it gradually, although you may have to follow up to ensure the job is thorough. This is especially important before sleep (naps and nighttime) when less saliva means greater risk of cavities.

Brushing can be fun! In our experience if you keep making it a high point in their day, they’ll do it with pleasure!
© Patient News

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