How healthy is your child's mouth? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the No. 1 chronic disease impacting the lives of young children in the U.S. is early childhood cavities, which can cause pain that keeps children home from school and impacts their ability to focus and learn.
February is National Children's Dental Health Month, sponsored by the American Dental Association (ADA), aiming to promote education for solid oral health practices. There is much you can do to help your child become a dental hygiene pro for years to come, and definitely some things to avoid to prevent future problems.
Check out these recommendations from the ADA and the National Institutes for Health (NIH):
1. DO encourage them to brush their teeth three times a day: when they wake up, after lunch and before bed. Put a toothbrush in their lunchbox as a reminder to head to the bathroom after they're done eating. Brushing the teeth removes plaque, bacteria and remnants of foods, like sugars and acids, that can damage the teeth if left on the surface.
2. DON'T give them toothpaste that's basically candy. Some brands of children's toothpaste contain sugars similar to candy that can do more harm that good. There are natural options in the flavors that make children want to brush, but are sweetened with ingredients like Xylitol, which can actually help prevent tooth decay and cavities.
3. DO talk about fluoride with your child's dentist. Most dental organizations recommend using a fluoride toothpaste as soon as the teeth come in. However, some parents may want to avoid the use of fluoride in toothpaste because this mineral is present in their drinking water. Find out what's in your community's water and bring this information to the dentist.
4. DON'T allow your child your to dispense their own toothpaste. Most likely, they will use too much which means they'll be ingesting too much fluoride and other ingredients in the toothpaste, no matter how natural. Always supervise your child when brushing their teeth or using a mouthwash so they don't swallow it.
5. DO talk to your dentist if your child is still sucking on their thumb or a pacifier after the age of four. While this habit may be comforting, it can actually negatively impact the alignment of their teeth and their bite, which can cause future dental issues.
6. DON'T give your child a pacifier that has food remnants on it or that has been "cleaned" in your own mouth. This practices allows bacteria to grow on the surface of the pacifier and food remnants, like sugar to remain, which can lead to tooth decay. Your child's teeth are susceptible to decay from the moment they come in.
7. DO floss your child's teeth to remove any pieces of food after meals that can cause tooth decay. Flossing is also essential when a tooth breaks or if a tooth becomes irritated and painful, as it may be due to trapped food. If there is an injury present, you want the area to remain clear.
8. DON'T make sugar-filled treats like candy, soda and desserts a daily occurrence. Not only do sugars damage the teeth and lead to cavities, they can also lead to weight gain and the development of diabetes over time. Save them for birthdays or holidays and hand out sensible portions instead of leaving out a dish.
9. DO keep plenty of healthy snacks around that strengthen their teeth, like apples or raw carrots that require them to bite. These foods also contain vital nutrients their growing bodies need like vitamins A and C. For a crunchy snack, bake kale leaves in the oven for "chips" which will also provide calcium for their teeth.
10. DON'T let your child play any type of sport without a mouthguard. By wearing a mouthguard, your child is less likely to experience dental injuries should they come into contact with another player or an object, like a ball. To make sure your child will wear it, consider having their mouthguard custom made.
11. DO talk to your child's dentist about sealants, which can help prevent tooth decay and cavities. Recognized as safe by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, sealants are a thin coating applied to the back teeth to keep out debris and germs that can damage the tooth.
12. DON'T ignore any pain or discomfort your child may be experiencing. Observe their eating habits -- if their appetite seems to have changed, their chewing slowly or if they seem to be avoiding one side of their mouth, take a look inside and make an appointment with their dentist if needed.
13. DO turn oral health into a family affair. If possible, have all family members brush their teeth, floss and use mouthwash at the same time when at home so it doesn't feel like a punishment. Put on silly music, make a checklist with gold stars for completing their oral care routine or add another tradition to the practice.
14. DON'T make going to the dentist a punishment or surround the upcoming appointment with anxiety. Even if you're nervous, you don't want your child to associate going to the dentist with bad things. Transform the day into a special occasion by bringing favorite toys along and maybe celebrating after with a favorite meal for a good report.
15. DO see your child's dentist every six months. Take the time to screen your dentist before making an appointment so you feel comfortable with them. Schedule appointments in advance if you can so they aren't missed and put them on a centrally located family calendar so your child knows the appointment is coming and can prepare.
You can find everything you need to protect your child's teeth from cavities and decay at eVitamins. Have a great week and we'll see you tomorrow!