As a society, we care a lot about our teeth. We celebrate lost baby teeth with tooth fairy payouts and commemorative photos, and surveys show when we’re deciding whether or not we find someone attractive, we often look to their smile. It may seem strange to care so much about teeth, but actually, teeth are hugely important not just to our appearances, but to our health and our day-to-day lives. We need teeth to speak and eat, and oral health problems can have a massive negative impact on overall health. Not to mention, once teeth are lost, they’re gone forever — only replaceable with artificial replacements like dental implants or dentures.
That’s why it’s so important as a family dentist that we teach children good oral hygiene practices from the beginning, and make sure they don’t enter adulthood with their dental health already compromised.
Teaching Kids Dental Hygiene Routines
From the moment that your child’s first tooth erupts from the gums, their teeth should be brushed. Until they can learn to do it on their own, parents have to brush their children’s teeth: Angle the brush towards the gumline at around 45 degrees, and brush gently in a circular motion to dislodge plaque that builds up along the gums.
Make sure to use toothbrushes designed for children, and replace the toothbrush every three to four months, or when it shows signs of wear. You should choose a toothpaste that’s safe for children, too, at least until they’re old enough to learn to spit after brushing. Around age six, children may be able to brush their teeth on their own, although periodic supervision is still a good way to make sure they’re not missing any spots.
Similarly, flossing should start as soon as your child has two teeth next to one another. By teaching these habits early, you can create a healthy routine that your son or daughter can stick to for their entire life.
Oral Hygiene Isn’t Enough
Unfortunately, a good tooth brushing routine simply isn’t enough to protect your children’s teeth from disease and decay. A recent study of over 4,000 preschool-aged children found that more so than oral hygiene routines, snacking habits are the strongest correlation with the development of cavities.
The average American child consumes more than three and a half times the recommended amount of sugar each day, and most of that is through soda, processed foods with lots of added sugar (like breakfast cereals), and candy. Even fruit juice, which may seem like a healthy drink, is packed with sugars.
Eating sugary foods and drinking sugary drinks is the primary threat to your child’s teeth. And since kids can’t make smart dietary choices yet, it’s up to parents to make sure their children aren’t eating the kinds of foods that can cause permanent damage to their teeth.