Sometimes it seems like you’ll never get your kids to brush without nagging. But don’t give up. “It’s important to help your kid develop good oral health now because it will impact them for the rest of their lives,” says Mario Ramos, DMD, of Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics of Midland Park. “Cavities are a disease that has many ramifications in overall health.”
Getting your kid into a groove also means you’re teaching a healthy lifestyle. “We want good habits to form early,” says Ryan Scally, DMD, in private practice at Bridgewater Dental Associates, and clinical assistant professor of pediatric dentistry at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine. “For example, if you teach them to brush from the time they’re small, it becomes routine and they’ll carry it on for life.”
Here’s what else you can do to protect your family’s oral health:
“Many parents don’t realize that kids should have their first visit to the dentist by age 1,” says Ramos. As soon as your child gets baby teeth, they can get cavities. At the first visit, your child’s dentist will help them feel comfortable in the chair and evaluate his or her teeth, jaws, bite and gums, and will check on growth and development. The dentist may do a light cleaning and discuss any concerns you have, such as teething or thumb sucking.
KEEP IT POSITIVE
Make a visit to the dentist a non-issue by behaving normally so your child doesn’t get worked up. For example, avoid saying things like, “Don’t worry. The dentist won’t hurt you,” because the only thing your kid will hear is the word “hurt.” Instead, explain that everyone goes to the dentist and that your child’s dentist is a friend who will help take care of that part of the body, says Ramos.
HELP LITTLE KIDS BRUSH
Kids should brush for two minutes at least twice a day to ensure every surface of every tooth is cleaned. You will need to brush little kids’ teeth because they don’t have the manual dexterity to do it themselves yet, says Scally. Typically, parents should help kids brush until age 7 or 8, though some kids will be ready to go solo sooner.
Manual or electric toothbrushes are fine, although some younger kids don’t like the size of the brush head or the vibration, says Scally. On the other hand, electric brushes have timers to make sure your child is brushing long enough. Some also come with apps that give kids something to watch or interact with so the time flies by (because two minutes can seem like forever to most of us).
USE FLUORIDE TOOTHPASTE
You’ll also want to make sure the toothpaste you choose contains fluoride—some natural pastes don’t have it. If your child is too young to spit, use a tiny smear; then, work up to an amount the size of a grain of rice, then a pea-sized amount. You don’t need a huge quantity, says Scally. At bedtime, don’t have your child rinse after brushing since the toothpaste residue allows the fluoride to sit on the surface of the teeth overnight.
HELP KIDS FLOSS AT LEAST ONCE A DAY
You should help kids floss until they can start to do it themselves, usually around age 10. One-time-use flosser picks are far easier to manipulate inside your child’s mouth than regular dental floss. “Flossing is essential because the toothbrush can’t get in between the teeth where plaque hides,” says Ramos.
ASK ABOUT FLUORIDE TREATMENTS
Your child’s dentist may recommend fluoride varnishes that can help re-mineralize teeth, says Scally. Fluoride makes teeth more resistant to the acid that causes tooth decay, and these treatments may be used twice a year, or more frequently in high-risk kids.
ASK IF SEALANTS ARE RIGHT FOR YOUR CHILD
Sealants, a thin, protective coating painted onto the chewing surfaces of back teeth, can be applied when permanent molars appear, around age 6 or 7, says Scally. Sealants can stop early stages of decay from becoming a cavity and may prevent up to 80 percent of cavities for the first two years after application, and 50 percent for up to four years.
SCHEDULE REGULAR APPOINTMENTS FOR CLEANINGS
Generally, kids should be seen every six months to catch issues early on but it’s dependent on a child’s individual risk factors. Kids who eat a lot of sweets and carbohydrates or tend to have poor dental habits may need more frequent visits.
LIMIT TROUBLESOME FOODS
Some of the worst foods for teeth are sweetened beverages such as soda, juice and sports drinks, especially if kids are sipping them all day long. Ditto for sticky treats like gummies or fruit leathers, which adhere to teeth. Carbohydrate-heavy snacks such as crackers and chips also are problematic; they should be eaten in one sitting, not grazed on all day. That’s because the longer that sugar or carbs (which break down into sugar) are in contact with teeth, the longer the bacteria in your mouth have to make acids, which causes decay, says Scally.
CONSIDER A PEDIATRIC DENTIST
Although your child can be seen by a general dentist, a pediatric dentist may be a better choice for some kids. Pediatric dentists attend a minimum of two additional years of training after dental
school, including psychology, behavior management and learning how to create a positive atmosphere for kids, says Ramos. Their offices also are more kid-friendly in design and décor so that it feels like a fun—not stressful—place for kids to visit. Find a board- certified pediatric dentist at aapd.org.