Good dental habits begin early on in a child’s life, and when parents are clear on what to look out for it’s far easier to establish habits that keep tooth decay at bay.
In this post, we’ll look at 3 distinct phases of the early years for children and what you as a parent can plan for at each one.
Birth To 2 Years Old
While babies don’t have teeth for much of their first year, a simple tip is to rub their gums with a warm, wet washcloth during bath time. This helps establish the habit and gets them used to things in their mouth, touching their gums.
Later, the idea of brushing their newly erupted teeth will be less surprising.
When possible, when giving your baby a bottle just before bed, try to give them water instead of milk. Milk has sugars in it that can form bacteria overnight. Ask your pediatrician for the right time to start doing this of course, but often by the time your baby has teeth coming in where this is a concern it’s close to where you can begin tapering off as many bottles of milk per day.
(Often at around the 1 year mark pediatricians recommend starting to give babies water throughout the day in addition to just milk.)
Firm rubber teething rings are ideal for your baby to chew on to relieve the discomfort of teething. Avoid liquid-filled rings, since they can break and spill liquid into the baby’s mouth.
Once your child’s first tooth starts coming in, find a pediatric dentist and schedule your first appointment.
At this age, brush your child’s teeth at least twice per day. Typically, that’d be in the morning before or after breakfast, and then in the evening before bedtime. Your child may need you to brush their teeth for them at the beginning of this age range, and then slowly start feeling more independent as they approach age 5.
Brushes with softer bristles are usually ideal. The idea isn’t to grind off buildup, but simply to rub it off.
Make sure your child visits the dentist every 6 months to ensure all those baby teeth have come in correctly and are staying healthy.
While pacifiers and thumb sucking can be reliable ways for a baby to soothe in the first 2 years, begin weening your baby off of them at age 2 and onward. This is because sucking on pacifiers and thumbs can negatively affect teeth. The upper teeth can become outwardly-slanted or become crooked, so it’s best avoided.
Begin flossing any teeth that are touching each other, at least once per day.
Avoid giving your children more than 6 oz. of juice per day. These beverages immerse your child’s teeth in sugar, and contribute to tooth decay. Also, keep an eye on the snacks your child eats, keeping them to less than 3x per day with regular brushing.
Age 5 and Beginning School
Even if your child has become able to brush their teeth themselves, parents should still supervise the brushing until their children are 7–8 years old. This ensures proper technique and that they brush for long enough.
You can give your child gum with xylitol, which is a non-sugar substance that will stimulate saliva in their mouth and help mitigate bacteria throughout the day. Check with your school first to ensure gum chewing would be ok in class.
If your child will be participating in sports after school, make sure to look into a good mouth guard for them to protect their teeth and gums from impact.
Sports drinks, while they are useful for hydration, are acidic and can erode the enamel on your child’s teeth. If your child is thirsty from playing, water tends to be the best choice.
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