By Allison Wells Morales, MD, PGY-3
Baylor College of Medicine Residency Program
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio
All parents want to make sure their children are the healthiest they can be. One aspect of health that often gets overlooked is dental health. Dental health is very important to your child’s overall health. Below are five steps that you can take to help your child achieve their healthiest smile.
A: Accept a household routine
The first step of helping your child maintain good dental health is to make sure they are brushing their teeth twice a day. As children get older, it is often a challenge to get them to brush their teeth at night when they are tired; however, this is a very important step to preventing cavities. When we skip brushing our teeth, food and bacteria are able to sit on our teeth and cause decay which will ultimately lead to cavities.
You can help your children by establishing a daily routine early on. This routine should include brushing their teeth at least twice a day and, until they turn eight years old, you should continue helping them brush their teeth to ensure they are getting all surfaces. Young children do not have the coordination needed to reach all areas of their teeth. When brushing alone, they are putting themselves at risk of cavities.
B: Ban the Bedtime Bottle
Another important step to help improve your child’s dental health is understanding when to ban the bottle. It is important that your child never goes to bed at night with a bottle, especially if that bottle contains any kind of milk. When a child takes a bottle to bed, they will often fall asleep with the bottle and/or milk in their mouth. This soaks their teeth in sugar and allows bacteria to cause decay. Dental decay from bottles can be severe and cause your child significant pain. Another important time to ban the bottle is after your child turns one year old. Start transitioning your baby away from a bottle and towards a sippy cup around their first birthday. As pediatricians, we know this process can be very difficult. Ask your doctor for advice.
C: Cut out Cavities
Cavities are one of the most prevalent diseases affecting children in our country. You may not realize it, but cavities are caused by bacteria in the mouth. You can pass these bacteria on to your child by sharing utensils and food. If you have cavities, try not to taste test food or put anything in your mouth prior to giving it to your child. This includes spoons, forks, snacks, and pacifiers.
D: Dedicate a Dental Home
Parents often wonder when they should first take their baby to see a dentist. We recommend that parents establish a dental home (or primary dentist) for their child once they have their first tooth or when they turn one year old, whichever occurs first. These visits are important to start getting your child familiar with the dentist as well as starting to promote their dental health from an early age. If you need help finding a child-friendly dentist, ask your pediatrician.
E: Establish an Early Start
It’s never too early to start thinking about your child’s dental health. I know your newborn baby doesn’t have teeth yet; and the fact is, most babies won’t get their first tooth until around six months of age. So what can you do now to help your infant with their dental health? Well, we already discussed that you can avoid sharing utensils and foods with them, clean their pacifiers with soap and water rather than placing it in your mouth, and making sure they don’t go to bed with a bottle. Additionally, you should start wiping down their gums with a clean washcloth to help prevent the milk from sitting on their gums. This will also get them used to the process and help make the transition to brushing their teeth much easier.
F: Finally, Don’t Forget the Fluoride!
Fluoride is a mineral that is important for dental health. It helps prevent dental decay caused by sugars (from foods) and bacteria in your mouth. It can even help reverse early signs of decay. Fluoride is often found in tap water, so if you have an infant that is formula fed, you can use tap water to make their bottles. Not sure if your water is fluoridated? You can check with your local water agency. Once your child gets their first tooth, use a smear of fluoridated toothpaste to brush their teeth. Once they turn three, you can start using a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s dental health, ask your pediatrician. If you need to identify a pediatrician or dentist for your child, visit http://www.chofsa.org/findadoc