When it comes to keeping kids healthy and teaching them good habits, one of the most important ones we can offer is good oral hygiene—teaching children how (and when) to brush and floss their teeth. Good oral hygiene can help prevent tooth decay and keep dangerous bacteria from spreading throughout the body.
START GOOD HABITS EARLY
As a parent, you really can’t start teaching oral health habits too early. When babies are infants, I recommend using a moist towel on their gums after meals. Then, when the first tooth erupts, you can start using a super soft baby toothbrush. If you wait until your baby is a toddler and then try to introduce brushing, you may have a battle on your hands. Just like bathing and eating, tooth brushing should be a daily routine that is non-negotiable. Be persistent.
Another great way to protect your child’s teeth is to avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle. Once your child is old enough to rinse and spit, consider introducing a fluoride rinse to their oral health routine. Many water districts add fluoride to the water system. Most water districts in California do not, so making sure your toothpaste has fluoride and using an over-the-counter fluoride rinse like ACT can help strengthen your child’s teeth. A dentist can also provide prescriptions for needed fluoride supplements. Both children and adults should only use soft-bristled tooth brushes.
WHEN TO SEE THE DENTIST – ROUTINE
Your baby’s first visit to the dentist should occur within one year of his or her first tooth erupting. This allows the dentist to look for any abnormalities, educate everyone about how to brush and floss, and begin building a relationship with the child and family. As parents, it can be difficult not to pass on our fears to our children. However, if you want to do your children a huge favor, try to keep your fear of the dentist between you and your dentist. When children come to the dentist for regular checkups, they can have a pain-free experience and prevent painful problems from developing.
After the initial visit, children (and adults) should see their dentist for routine checkups ideally every six months.
WHEN TO SEE THE DENTIST – URGENT PROBLEMS
Contact a dentist immediately if a tooth becomes loose or knocked out as a result of trauma (not in the natural course of adult teeth pushing out baby teeth). There’s a window of opportunity for us to put that tooth back in successfully, so call your dentist immediately or go to the ER. If you’re one of our patients at MCHC Health Centers, call us immediately. If you have any problems getting in touch, just come in. We’ll do everything we can to fit you in.
A lost tooth is a problem that needs immediate attention, but other problems aren’t so obvious. How do you know when to call for an appointment? Sometimes teeth are sensitive—this sensitivity comes and goes for many people and is not the best reason to make a special appointment. However, if your child experiences prolonged pain, swelling, pus, redness, or bleeding in the mouth, something is wrong. If you see discoloration on the teeth, something may be wrong. (Please get your child in to see the dentist.)
WHAT HAPPENS WITHOUT GOOD DENTAL CARE
Unfortunately, damage from dental disease can go beyond pain and infection. Dental disease can affect speech development, esthetics, and self-esteem. Small children with decayed teeth can have a hard time eating nourishing foods, resulting in poor growth and development. Children experiencing dental pain are distracted and unable to concentrate on schoolwork, which can result in poor school performance.
It is important for young children to see a dentist for a well-child check soon after that first tooth pops through, so they can start good habits early.
Dr. Austin is a dentist at MCHC Health Centers—a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.