October is Dental Hygiene Month! Being a dental hygienist, oral health for kids is something very close to my heart. I have two young children, so I get that caring for their teeth can sometimes be a struggle, and oftentimes, our own oral health gets put on the back burner. I’ve put together the following list of some of my favorite tips for oral health for kids, to promote a healthy mouth and to prevent cavities.
Tips on Oral Health for Kids
Keep an Eye on Your Newborn’s Mouth
Becoming a parent can be overwhelming. A lot of times the last thing on our minds is our baby’s mouth. After all, they don’t have teeth yet, right? Even though they likely won’t have teeth for at least four months, it’s important to start noticing and caring for your baby’s mouth as soon as they are born.
I recommend taking a look in your child’s mouth when they are a newborn, as a lot of feeding problems can stem from an oral issue. I personally experienced this with my second child. If your baby is experiencing colic symptoms or having trouble latching while breastfeeding or using a bottle, have them evaluated for a lip or tongue tie. Check out these videos with more information on ties and frenectomies at the pediatric side of the practice I work for. It’s a very simple laser procedure that can make a world of a difference.
Best Bottle Practices
Even before your baby has teeth, it’s best to avoid putting them to bed with a bottle. You can also clean their gums after the last feed of the day by wiping them with a wet cloth.
In addition, I recommend discontinuing bottle use around one year, as continued use can increase your baby’s risk for cavities. This happens because babies tend not to swallow the last sip of milk and it pools in the front of their mouth. This can contribute to “bottle decay” or early childhood cavities.
See Your Dentist (and Dental Hygienist) Regularly
I recommend making an appointment with your dentist, as soon as your child’s first tooth erupts or before one year. Sometimes called happy visits, these appointments are important in establishing a dental home and allowing your child to feel comfortable at the dentist. My daughter loves her dental check ups—she gets to pick out her tooth paste flavor (last visit she chose cookie dough!), and they have the coolest prizes.
A healthy diet is important in maintaining a healthy smile. Cavities are promoted by frequent snacking, especially on foods high in sugar. This can be tough because a lot of the time, these foods are marketed as being “healthy”, such as fruit gummies and juice. If you are going to offer juice or other sugary beverages, try offering them with a meal rather than letting kiddos sip on them throughout the day.
Toddler Brushing Tips
For many kids (and parents), brushing is a struggle. Here are a few toddler brushing tips that I’ve learned over the years:
- Sing a Song: I started this with my kids when they were babies. Singing the same song every time we brush helped us to establish a routine. I started this at around six months with my son. He’s now one year old and opens his mouth as soon as I start singing!
- Encourage Imagination: For toddlers, sometimes you just have to go along with your kid’s ideas. My three year old went through a phase where she had to brush all of her stuffed animals’ teeth before brushing her own. Although it can be time consuming, these phases don’t last forever, but a good oral health routine will.
- Put it into Terms they Understand: I think it’s important to teach our kids why we brush our teeth as well as the consequences if we don’t. Cavities are essentially caused by bacteria in your mouth that produces acids that eat away at your teeth. Although kids likely won’t understand these terms, I tell my patients and my own kids that we need to brush off the “sugar bugs” before they “poop” on their teeth. My daughter has always been concerned about the “sugar bugs” and reminds me that it’s time to brush before they “poop” on her teeth.
- Encourage Independence: Toddlers often love doing things themselves, and it’s great to encourage this independence. However, it’s important to remember that children don’t have the fine motor skills to effectively brush by themselves until they around the time they are able to write their name or tie their shoe. Until then, it’s best to follow up afterwards.
- Remember the Rule of TWO: An easy way to remember how often and how long to brush is the “rule of two”: Brush for TWO minutes TWO times a day. It’s also good to see your dentist TWICE a year.
- Make it a Family Routine: Another tried-and-true tip is to set a time for the whole family to brush. This is a great way to encourage a good oral hygiene routine by setting an example.
Keep YOUR Dentist Appointments, Too
This brings me to my last tip. It’s important to take care of your own smile as well as your child’s. Studies show a correlation between poor oral health in parents and poor oral health in children. Believe it or not, the oral bacteria that causes cavities is contagious. Try to avoid sharing utensils and cups with your child. I know how hard it can be as a busy mom to find time for a dental appointment, but it’s important to try to make your oral health a priority as well.
I know firsthand that it can be challenging to maintain a good oral hygiene routine with your kids. It takes practice and patience. What are your tips for keeping your child’s smile healthy?