An unfortunate myth is that primary (baby) teeth are not as important or require less care, because the teeth will eventually give way to permanent teeth.
A child’s first set of teeth, developed when the jaw bone forms in the second trimester in the womb, is extremely important for speaking, chewing, and setting a healthy start for permanent teeth to grow into. Gum health also begins from an early age, and can affect how teeth develop.
Experts from Jefferson Dental Clinics recommend establishing a regular dental care routine with children from an early age, as an important practice to prevent oral health conditions such as cavities, gingivitis, tooth loss and chronic diseases later in life.
When to start brushing:
Parents can care for a child’s gums, before primary teeth grow in, using a damp wash cloth to gently sweep away bacteria. Regular cleaning after feedings can stave off bacteria that causes infant tooth decay and other oral illnesses.
Pro tip: The sensation of wiping the gums may also help with the painful process of teething.
For babies and toddlers
Once teeth do start to come in, brushing should begin immediately. Choose infant toothbrushes which are small and gentle enough for sensitive mouths, and use a very small amount of kid’s toothpaste to clean each exposed tooth twice a day.
Pro tip: Look for ultra-soft brushes that are delicate on your little one’s gums.
For toddlers and older children
Starting at about age 2, children should develop the habit of supervised tooth brushing using a child’s toothbrush. Using a pea-sized amount of toothpaste, teach children to brush all teeth, front and back, using circular motions. Assist children to re-clean spots they may have missed.
Pro tip: It can be particularly helpful to use a special mouthwash that temporarily dyes missed areas of plaque until all areas of the mouth are brushed.
When to start flossing:
Once a child has any two teeth that touch together it’s time to begin flossing. An adult should demonstrate and provide assistance until a child’s dexterity is fully formed. There are a variety of kid-friendly flavors of floss that may encourage a more regular routine.
Pro tip: A healthy rule of thumb is that children need assistance brushing and flossing their teeth until they can neatly write their own name.
When to start dental visits:
According to the American Dental Association (ADA) by child’s first birthday, he or she should begin seeing the dentist at least once annually to review proper home care techniques, as well as screen for potential issues. Regular dental appointments also help a child become familiar visiting the dentist’s office, easing the fear as they age.
When to start other preventative techniques:
A dentist may recommend a topical fluoride treatment to strengthen enamel in children who are at an increased risk for cavities or other problems due to complications caused by prolonged bottle or antibiotic usage.
As permanent teeth come in, many dentists recommend sealants, to protect back teeth (where most chewing occurs).
Ultimately it is important to remember that healthy smiles run in the family! Children adopt healthy habits that are built at home. A regular dental routine that includes brushing and flossing twice daily, as well as two annual dental visits is the most effective ways to prevent cavities and develop proper oral hygiene that transforms healthy kids into healthy adults!