Baby-teeth Boot Camp: Six Tips for Getting Your Child's Dental Health Off to a Good Start
There are few things in the world more precious than a baby's first big, toothless grin. But toothless smiles on older children – or adults – aren't quite so cute. If you are a parent, you probably know that, for the first several years at least, the health of your child's teeth is your responsibility. What you may not know is how to go about caring for those little pearls, especially if your own dental habits are less than perfect. Here are some basic tips for keeping your child's teeth clean and healthy today, while helping them to develop good habits that will continue to benefit them in the future.
Keeping It Clean
It doesn't matter how young or old a person is. The first step toward a healthy smile is always the same: brush and floss. As soon as that first tooth appears, start keeping it clean by gently brushing it twice a day with a soft, baby-sized toothbrush, dampened with a little water. Toothpaste is not usually recommended until a child is old enough to be taught not to swallow it. Flossing should also begin as soon as the child has two adjacent teeth.
The first dental exam can be scheduled as soon as teeth begin to appear, and should take place no later than one year of age. Subsequent checkups should take place at regular intervals, as recommended by your child's dentist. Check to see if your dentist treats children, or if you don't already have a dentist of your own, find a family dentist in your area who can see both you and your child.
Much discussion has taken place over the last few decades regarding the perils of thumb sucking, pacifiers, and baby bottles. According to the American Dental Association, the non-nutritive sucking behavior that is a normal (and even beneficial) part of infant development should be abandoned between the ages of two and four to avoid pushing teeth out of alignment. Although modern pacifiers are designed to be more "orthodontic" than older versions, they can still cause problems if used beyond an appropriate age. If your child continues to suck a pacifier or thumb past the age of four, consult your dentist for tips on discouraging the habit.
As for bottles, it is important to never allow a child to take a bottle to bed. Not only does falling asleep with a bottle encourage tooth decay, it also poses a significant choking hazard.
The Post-snack Attack
Avoiding sweets may seem like a no-brainer when it comes to protecting teeth. But what you may not realize is that healthy snacks, including fruit, vegetables, and breads, can do just as much harm to tooth enamel as candy. Instead of allowing your child to "graze" throughout the day, encourage him or her to eat only during mealtimes. After eating a snack, drinking a glass of water (not juice or milk, as these contain sugars) or, if the child is old enough, chewing a piece of sugar-free gum will help reduce the amount of sugar and starches left on teeth.
Preaching vs. Practice
It's no secret that children mimic their parents. The best step you can take to ensure that your child develops good dental habits is to practice them yourself. Try to brush and floss with your child. This way, the child is more likely to enjoy the activity and participate willingly than if it feels like a chore.
Find the Fun
Maybe after all these years, you've become bored with your dental routine. Maybe you even suffer from some degree of dental anxiety. The problem is that if you allow negative feelings about dental care to show, your child will develop them as well. Most kids would never even consider being afraid of the dentist if their parents didn't, at least subconsciously, give them the idea. So make a conscious effort to make at-home dental care fun and regular checkups positive and exciting. Let a child who is old enough choose his or her own toothbrush and select pleasant-tasting toothpaste just for kids. Offer praise when the dentist gives your child a clean bill of health. And, above all, be careful how you phrase things. A child who "gets" to go to the dentist is much more likely to develop good dental habits than one who "has" to go to the dentist.
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