How to Establish Healthy Dental Habits at an Early Age
Believe it or not, children can begin to develop cavities as early as their teething stage. This age marks the beginning of their dental hygiene journey.
The best way to avoid infant cavities is to lower sugar consumption. Sugar plays a significant role in cavity formation as it breaks down a tooth’s enamel. Foods and drinks like candies, sweets and sodas are obviously high in sugar, but there are some surprisingly high-sugar drinks such as juice and milk. For this reason, it is best to steer clear of those nighttime milk bottles to avoid sending a child to sleep with sugar coating their mouth. If a child needs a soothing nighttime bottle, a bottle filled with warm water might just do the trick. Likewise, juices like apple and orange juice should be diluted with water. Just like milk, juice should not be given at bedtime.
So, what is the right age for the first dental visit? Right when that first tooth sprouts. The first visit to the dentist can be very frightening for children. For this reason, many dentists will have meet-and-greet appointments. Meet-and-greet appointments are a great way for children to start getting comfortable in the dental office.
These appointments typically include a lap exam, where the child sits in the parent’s lap for their dental exam and an introduction to a toothbrush cleaning and fluoride. Fluoride will help keep the child’s teeth nice and strong and will aid in combating cavities. It is important to begin dentist visits at a young age so the child feels more comfortable with the dentist and dental procedures as they grow.
It is crucial for children to start brushing their teeth at an early age.
Many children do not like the taste of mint toothpaste, claiming that it is too spicy. Be sure to find a toothpaste flavor that is enjoyable to make the activity more fun. Just a smear of toothpaste is needed for children aged 0-2, and a pea-sized amount of toothpaste is encouraged for children over the age of 2. Brush your child’s teeth twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. As your child gets older, encourage them to take their dental hygiene journey into their own hands and start brushing on their own.
Dental health is a window to overall health. In addition to their teeth, the child’s dentist will look at the child’s gums, tonsils, tongue and lips. Gums can give the dentist an idea of hygiene as well as if there are any underlying diseases. Irritated, red gums might indicate the child does not have good oral hygiene. An abscess on the gums might tell the dentist there is a large cavity, and a tooth may need to be extracted. The dentist will also monitor the child’s tonsil size, which gives an idea of a recent ailment or an airway problem. If your child has large tonsils that may prohibit them from breathing adequately, suggestions might be made to see a pediatrician, oral surgeon or ear, nose, throat (ENT) specialist. If your child has difficulty moving their tongue, it may indicate that your child is tongue-tied and may need surgery to allow the child to speak freely or nurse adequately.
The key to good habits can be simple. Limit the amount of sugar given to your child. Brush twice a day and bring your child to the dentist twice a year. This will ensure that your child’s oral hygiene is off to a great start.
Mary Elise Fox, DDS, is a dental general practice resident at LSU Health Shreveport. Emily Neeley, DMD, is the clinical assistant professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery and director of the Division of Pediatric Dentistry at LSU Health Shreveport.