Starting children off with good dental habits and positive experiences at the dentist’s office can help them develop a healthy relationship with their teeth. Very few people enjoy going to the dentist, and that’s understandable. By the time people arrive at the dentist’s office, many are already in pain. If you’ve ever had a toothache, you know how painful it can be. As a dentist, my goal is to prevent pain, and the best way to do this is to encourage good oral health habits.
When to start with dental care
Even before your child’s first dentist visit, you can start them on a path to good oral health. For example, before your child’s first tooth appears, you can use a wet towel to wipe down their gums. This helps them get used to the feeling of brushing. When that first tooth arrives, or no later than their first birthday, it’s time to introduce them to a dentist.
What good prevention looks like
You’ll need to support your child’s dental hygiene as they grow and develop. Helping them brush their teeth is one of the most important ways to prevent dental problems. And children need help brushing for longer than you might expect.
Children don’t fully develop the motor skills to brush their own teeth well until they are about eight years old. Until then, they do not have the flexibility in their wrist to hold their hand in the right position to brush their back molars. And brushing is only one part of children’s dental health.
Another important factor in good dental hygiene is diet. Everything your children put in their mouth can affect their teeth. Maybe you have seen the experiment where a tooth is left in a cup of cola overnight. By the morning, the tooth has completely dissolved. Concentrated sugars are one of the most harmful things for teeth.
While it is common knowledge that sodas and soft drinks are bad for your teeth, things like fruit juice often go overlooked. Fruit is healthy, but fruit juice is often concentrated to the point that a single cup can have as much sugar as a full-sized Hershey’s bar. This doesn’t mean that kids should never have juice or soda, but it’s important for their teeth that they have these treats in moderation.
Food and beverages are not the only things children put in their mouths. If your child takes medication on a regular basis, ask your dentist if it has any potential side effects that could cause dental problems.
It can sometimes be hard to know when your child has a dental problem. When kids come into the dentist and we ask if anything hurts, parents are often shocked to hear them say yes, in fact, their teeth have been hurting for some time. Children are both tough and easily distracted, so they don’t mention it when their teeth hurt. Checking in with them and taking a look in their mouth when you help them brush can allow you to spot painful cavities before they become worse.
What happens without good dental care
It’s a lot harder to fix a problem than it is to prevent it. Dental work on children can be challenging. If the problem is severe enough, treatment relies on sedation, which can increase risk and can sour children on the dentist–and dental care–for the rest of their lives. While general dentistry for children is available locally, as soon as care requires sedation, we have to refer it out of town. Driving an hour or more for care makes the whole process inconvenient and time-consuming, not to mention expensive, depending on where you are referred to.
Remember, when it comes to the human body, everything is connected. Keeping a child’s mouth healthy allows them to eat properly and avoid the misery of a toothache. Dental providers like myself here at MCHC Health Centers treat patients of all ages and especially enjoy working with kids. It’s hard to forget traumatic experiences that can come with painful dental work at a young age. Let us help you prevent those experiences for your child.
Dr. Ngo is a dentist at MCHC Health Centers, a community-based and patient-centered organization that serves Mendocino and Lake Counties, providing comprehensive primary healthcare services as well as supportive services such as education and translation that promote access to healthcare.