Teeth. They help your child eat, speak and flash the sweetest smiles. Sometimes parents take baby teeth for granted because they are not a permanent fixture. But dental care for children should begin early, even before all a child’s teeth have made their way into the world. Parents need to start daily dental care with the appearance of the child’s first tooth and plan their child’s first dentist visit by age 1.
Brush those babies: If you think baby teeth are just a cute preview of the real deal, think again. Dental care is just as important for your young child’s pearly whites as it is for your permanent chompers. Here are some reasons to insist on dental hygiene from baby’s first tooth:
Children need baby teeth to chew: Even though they won’t last forever, your child needs his or her baby teeth to eat everything from those first Cheerios to vegetables. Children with tooth decay often experience pain when eating, causing them to eat less and suffer nutritional deficiencies or slow growth.
Baby teeth are placeholders: If a baby tooth falls out prematurely, the space that tooth was holding for a permanent tooth may be crowded by the remaining baby teeth.
Good habits stick: A child who learns to brush and floss baby teeth properly is likely to continue this healthy routine when permanent teeth make their appearance.
Decayed teeth = poor academic performance: Imagine how hard it would be to concentrate at your job if you had a toothache. Damaged, unhealthy teeth are just as painful and distracting to a child as to an adult, hampering your child’s success in school.
Five guidelines to prevent tooth decay in children
- Banish bottles in bed. Putting babies to sleep with a bottle of anything but water can cause tooth decay.
- Offer only water in a sippy cup. Giving your child soda, fruit juice or even milk in a sippy cup means his or her teeth can stay coated with sugar for hours.
- If it’s sweet, keep it short. A quick sweet snack is better than sucking on the same lollipop for hours. The less time your child spends with a mouthful of sugar before brushing, the better.
- Teach good eats. Healthful foods not only help children grow strong, but they also protect teeth. In particular, avoid refined carbohydrates found in processed foods, and offer fruits, veggies and whole
grains such as brown rice and wholewheat bread.
- Brush and floss often. For infants, use a soft baby toothbrush and water. Introduce a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste between the ages of 2 and 3, and continue to supervise your child to minimize the amount of toothpaste he or she swallows.
About the Author
Dr. Rosie Roldan is the director of the Pediatric Dentistry Residency Program at Nicklaus Children's Hospital. She and her team provide dental care for children at the Nicklaus Children's Doral Outpatient Center.