I have a good friend who is a dental hygienist. I thought it would be great to have her do a guest post about kids dental hygiene because there are plenty of questions people have and sometimes I really don't know what's best for my kids' teeth. Thanks Carlin for taking the time to do this!
As both a mom and a dental hygienist, I have a special interest in my children’s teeth. Here are a few tips and tricks that are good to know for all parents!
- As soon as your child’s first tooth erupts, you need to start brushing! This may seem early, but it is necessary for the health of your child’s teeth. Until your child can spit, it is suggested that you only use non-fluoridated toothpaste (if they swallow too much fluoride, they could get sick). However, don’t freak yourself out about this. Fluoride is a good thing, and it’s good for them to get fluoride to help their little teeth to grow. Just control the amount they get (a pea-size amount on their brush or less) and keep the toothpaste out of their reach. (FYI, it would take a lot of swallowed toothpaste for your child to get sick.)
- Help your child brush their teeth. Make sure that all the surfaces of the teeth are being brushed! Teach your child to brush in big circles, so that they get all the surfaces. They need to be brushing every morning and every night.
- Brush for 2 minutes to have the best chance of removing the most plaque. Sing your child’s favorite song and tell them that when you are done, they can rinse. Or get a timer in their favorite color. Anything to make it not seem like an eternity!
- As a mom, I can honestly tell you that I have never brushed my children’s teeth for 2 minutes (they are ages 3 and 1). I feel like if I have brushed all the surfaces of their teeth, I’m doing a good job. The most important thing is to teach consistency and eventually, brushing will be less of a fight and they will build good brushing habits at a young age. Try for 2 minutes, but don’t beat yourself up if it’s not going to happen!
- Once your child’s teeth start touching, you need to floss in between them. It will be hard, and they will fight it, but it needs to be done! You can get little floss holders that look like dinosaurs or princesses that will make it easier. The toothbrush cannot get in between their teeth. A lot of kids, who are really good brushers, get cavities between their teeth because they have not been flossing.
- You need to floss, too! Show your child that you do it, and then they will be more willing to do it.
BACTERIA AND PLAQUE
- Bacteria can transfer very easily from mouth to mouth. That is why it is advised to not share utensils with your child or suck on their binky when it falls on the floor. Let’s be honest though, it’s going to happen! We are going to share germs with our kids. Just keep your own mouth as clean as you can- never have active cavities (get them fixed when they are found), go to the dentist regularly, brush and floss- and it shouldn’t be too big of a deal.
- Decay is caused when sugar mixes with plaque on the teeth and becomes an acid. The acid eats away at the teeth. So if your child is drinking milk or juice out of a bottle or sippy cup all day, or snacking on fruit snacks and other chewy, sugary treats, their teeth are exposed to acid constantly. Even if you brush their teeth morning and night, they aren’t going to have much of a chance. What they eat has so much to do with it! Only give your child water in their bottle or sippy cup after they get teeth. Give them milk and juice only at meals. After your child eats a sugary snack (raisins, fruit snacks, candy), have them take a drink of water. This will help neutralize the acid faster.
- Fluoride supplements- when your child’s teeth are still developing, it’s beneficial to give them a systemic fluoride supplement (tablets or drops) so that the fluoride will help make the teeth strong as they are growing. Once teeth are erupted, a topical fluoride supplement is most beneficial (Fluoride applications at school and at the dental office). Check to see if your city fluoridates their water, and then figure out with your dentist if a supplement is beneficial.
- Note: Fluoride is not a poison! Anything, if taken in excess, could be a poison, even water. Fluoride helps make strong teeth and helps prevent decay. It is so important! I have parents tell me that they read on the internet that it’s a poison, and they refuse to let their kids have it. That is fine for you to have an opinion, but know that dental professionals know what they are doing! We are aware of the “study” you read online and you are not the first person to tell us about it. We just know more studies that tell the truth.
- Why are baby teeth important? Aren’t they just going to fall out anyway?
There are multiple reasons why those baby teeth need to be taken care of.
They are place holders for the adult teeth- if the baby teeth need to be pulled, the adult teeth may not come in right. They help develop proper speech and eating habits. If a child has a cavity in a baby tooth, and the parent decides to just leave it since “it’ll just fall out anyway”, this child can suffer from pain that prohibits them from speaking correctly and functioning well.
- When should I first take my child to the dentist?
Take your child to the dentist when they are old enough or mature enough to sit still and let the dentist look in their mouth. As a hygienist, if I have a patient coming to me when they are one, there is not a lot I can do for them. Save your money and wait until they can actually do something. In the meantime, lift your child’s upper lip frequently so you can see the tops of their upper teeth, making sure they do not have any decay in those areas.
- Why can’t I put my child to bed with a bottle?
Earlier I mentioned how decay is caused by acid. Milk has sugar in it and also mixes with plaque to cause acid. When a baby goes to bed with a bottle, the milk can sit in their mouth for a long time, after the child has fallen asleep. This allows their teeth to be exposed to acid for a long amount of time and can cause decay. I know it’s hard, but try to only give your child water in their bottle when it is bedtime.
- My child sucks their thumb/a binky. What should I do?
Once teeth start coming in, binkies and thumbs can cause the teeth to not form properly and prohibit proper speech. Try to wean your children of these habits to avoid problems. However, it doesn’t become a major issue until their top teeth start coming in.
I know this is a lot of information and a lot to take in. Here are a few key points to remember:
1. Brush AND floss EVERY DAY! Consistency is key.
2. Limit sugary snacks and keep sugary drinks to mealtimes.
3. Fluoride is GOOD and it is important. Make sure your child is having exposure- toothpaste, water, or supplements, but not all three.
I hope this information is helpful and can better help you take care of your child’s teeth!
Carlin Pickett, RDH