Good oral hygiene for children should begin even before the first tooth erupts. This surprises many parents but for your new baby, it is essential to oral health. Within a few days of birth, you should begin to gently wipe your baby’s gums with wet gauze or a soft washcloth twice a day. By the time the first tooth comes in (at around 6 months of age), your baby will be used to oral care.
That first little tooth is as vulnerable to tooth decay as your own are, but cavities are preventable with the right attention. Using a soft toothbrush, gently brush all the surfaces of the tooth twice a day. Use only a smear (about the size of a grain of rice) of fluoride toothpaste until the child is old enough to spit. Then graduate to an amount the size of a pea. Fluoride toothpaste should not be swallowed.
As soon as two teeth touch, flossing should begin. It may be easier to use a floss holder to facilitate cleaning between teeth. Flossing twice daily after brushing is an essential part of oral hygiene and if started early will become second nature to your child.
Watch between meal snacks. Opt for fruit or vegetables and avoid starchy foods that tend to leave sugar in the mouth. A child who eats often throughout the day may not have enough time for saliva to wash away the acid that food leaves on the teeth, so encourage your child to drink water after snacks.
Never let your baby go to sleep with a bottle of anything but water. Don’t nurse your baby to sleep, either, because breast milk also contains sugar and can cause damage to baby teeth. This is especially true of juice drinks.
Once your child is able to brush alone, at around 6-8 years of age, you should still watch to be sure the job is being done properly. Until then, allow your child to brush but follow up by brushing his or her teeth yourself.
Regular dental appointments for checkups and cleanings should begin by the time your child reaches his or her first birthday. A child’s dentist should be one who understands the special needs for treating children. You are the child’s best chance for good oral health, so be sure you are practicing what you preach and taking good care of your own teeth. Brushing and flossing can be a happy, bonding time. Enjoy the time together and know that you are contributing to your child’s healthy habits.