According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 15 percent of children between six and 19 have dental caries, or decay, and nearly 20 percent have failed to visit their dentists in the last year. Good dental care is essential for kids’ teeth and should even begin before a baby’s first tooth erupts. Practicing good dental hygiene right from the start can help instill a lifetime of positive health habits in a child and prevent more serious dental health issues.
Babies have 20 teeth at birth. Although these teeth may not be visible, they are vulnerable. Caretakers should use a wet washcloth to wipe the baby’s gums off twice a day to remove plaque and bacteria. When the first tooth erupts, parents can switch to a baby toothbrush, water and a small dollop of baby-safe toothpaste. The first tooth also indicates a visit to the dentist is in order.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has recommended that children receive their first dental appointment by the time they receive their first tooth or when they reach 1 year old. At the first dental checkup, the dentist will get to know the child, check for any oral problems and discuss good dental practices with the parents and child. As children get older, they may also benefit from fluoride treatments, which can strengthen the teeth against cavities, and dental sealants, which seal the pits and fissures of molars against bacteria and plaque.
By the time a child is two, he or she will generally be able to use fluoride toothpaste. Children who cannot spit after brushing should continue to use baby toothpaste. Older children should be supervised until about five. Once children have teeth that touch, flossing daily is necessary to remove plaque and bacteria from between the teeth and reduce the risk of gum disease. Teach your children that brushing can be fun. Play a fun song or set a timer to ensure kids clean their for at least two minutes, and learn about cavity-prevention together using books or computer games.
Poor dental hygiene during these early years can lead to significant, life-long dental health problems. Children’s teeth can decay, the enamel can become pitted and they may suffer stains. Severe cavities or infections may result in the premature loss of baby teeth, which can affect the eruption of permanent teeth.