Tiny Teeth, Big Health

With all of the different checklists and doctors and advice on this or that, it can be confusing to figure out just what really is important in terms of oral hygiene for your children. When should you take your children to the dentist for their very first trip, and is a cleaning every six months necessary? If you’re like a majority of the population, it’s not your favorite place to go, so why on earth would you expect your child to find even the slightest bit of enjoyment in it? Besides, what possible need could your child have for being as vigilant as you, you, the picture of oral health with your steadfast routine of all the brushing and the flossing and the water-picking (uh-huh, we see you with that sheepish look on your face), when their little smiles widen to reveal all those little pearls just waiting to become the prized possession of the Tooth Fairy? According to research, there might be more cause than you think...For that reason, the American Dental Association (ADA) sponsors National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM) in February in hopes of raising awareness of the need to start good dental practices at an early age. Beginning in the first year of life, it’s important to create a healthy foundation for those teeny-tiny little pearly whites, keeping potential cavities at bay by using a soft, wet training toothbrush on children under two. For those two and above, add a children’s toothpaste with fluoride to the routine and brush twice a day.

“One thing I typically tell parents is that the best toothbrush is one that kids are excited to use,” says Dr. Kevin Kennedy, Jr., whose new practice at Spring Creek Pediatric Dentistry in Clarksville, Tennessee, will open in early spring. “If that means a Spin-brush with music, then go for it. If that means a manual toothbrush with an animated character they love on the handle, then use that one. Find out what motivates your child to develop a healthy brushing technique and have fun with it!” Once there are enough teeth to floss, floss gently in between the teeth to remove any particles of food that might have lodged in those itty-bitty crevices.

As a general rule of thumb, Dr. Kennedy has a few other helpful tips for parents with tiny mouths to tend:

  • Establish a dental home with a trusted pediatric dentist

  • Limit sugary drinks to meal times only

  • Never put an infant to sleep with a sugary liquid or use juice in a Sippy-cup for toddlers

  • Never neglect the importance of baby teeth in forming healthy permanent teeth

  • Always ask your pediatric dentist any questions you have, no matter how insignificant they might seem

“Another critical factor in preventing decay in between the teeth is being mindful of frequent exposure to sugary liquids,” he continues. “Sometimes simply changing the frequency of when a child has access to a sugary liquid throughout the day can significantly decrease his or her risk of developing cavities.”

So just when should check-ups begin? According to the ADA, the time to open wide and say “Ahhh” is within six months of the appearance of your child’s first tooth, and no later than their first birthday. When it comes to establishing a regular schedule of visits to the dentist’s office, there are certain other factors to keep in mind as well. “The need for regular dental visits for children is individually based on a classification called ‘caries risk,’ where permanent areas of damage in the teeth develop into tiny holes,” says Dr. Kennedy, who has been practicing pediatric dentistry since 2012. “The most common timeline to follow in establishing a regular schedule of check-ups every six months is for children age two and above, but there may be unique factors to each child that would alter the recommended interval based on their own individual need. Always ask your pediatric dentist what is your child’s ‘caries risk’ and what factors are involved in reaching that determination.”

Baby teeth may ultimately be destined for the Tooth Fairy’s collection, but proper care is still an essential part of your child’s health, so get ready to smile wide and start brushing.

With NCDHM’s 2019 campaign slogan of Brush and clean in between to build a healthy smile!” the ADA has some great ways to make that healthy smile a sparkling realty:

  1. Sugary foods and beverages should strictly be consumed with meals, as saliva production increases during meals, which helps neutralize acid production and rinse food particles from the mouth.

  2. Limit snacks between meals, and offer only nutritious foods.

  3. Allow children only sugarless chewing gum, and consider it a helpful tool. Chewing sugarless gum after mealtimes or snacks can increase saliva flow and help wash away food and decay-producing acid.

  4. Monitor beverage consumption and limit them to healthy beverage choices such as water and low-fat milk.

  5. Be an example yourself and help your children establish good brushing and flossing habits.

  6. Schedule regular dental visits.