Author: Gabriella Gometra
Good habits are most easily established young. If you want to save a lot of money on dentist visits and spare your child the pain of tooth decay, you will start them very young in the habit of taking care of their mouths. Brushing new teeth should become as routine as taking baths and washing hands.
First teeth begin erupting when a baby is between three and six months. Once or twice a day you can clean your babies gum ridges with a finger covered in a clean baby washcloth. A baby washcloth is better than an ordinary one because it is thinner and will be less material to cause your baby to gag.
When baby is starting on their first solid foods around the age of six months, you can follow up with sips of water. Drinking water is a good way to clean out a mouth, and it is also a great opportunity to begin to transition a child to drinking from a cup. Even if you plan to breastfeed your child into their toddler years, your child can still be introduced to water in a cup during meals of solid foods. If the drinking water in your home does not have fluoride you should consider a fluoride supplement for your child between the ages of 6 months and 16 years.
Once you have a few teeth in their mouth to brush, you can switch from the washcloth to a child’s or toddler’s toothbrush. Brush gently when you cannot avoid the gum area. You can do without the toothpaste until they are old enough to spit it out, which is around the age of three. There are also toddler toothpastes available to buy which are safe for children to swallow. If the family toothpaste is too strong in flavor for the child you can try a children’s toothpaste or milder-flavored toothpaste without artificial sweeteners that can be found in many health food stores.
You will probably need to give a large amount of supervision in the teeth brushing until a child is seven or eight years old. Before then you can let the child take the toothbrush in hand and try it themselves, but many children have difficulty with the up and down motion needed to clean teeth along the gum line. Check after they have brushed, make a visual spot check and follow up with the brush when food can be seen along the gum line or stuck in molars.
When children’s teeth first come in, there are usually plenty of spaces around them. As the teeth and especially the molars begin to touch, flossing needs to become an important part of the program. Parents will probably need to handle the floss until a child is seven or eight years old, but after that a child should be able to do it themselves using flossers. A flosser is usually easier than working with floss on a spool. A flosser is a U-shaped piece of plastic with a little floss strung between the open ends of the U.
Children should be flossing their teeth for about two minutes a session at least twice a day. One way to help a child brush long enough is to have a two-minute egg timer by the sink. Another way is to have a tradition of brushing one’s teeth for the length it takes to hum a certain song that is long enough.
Most of the prevention of tooth decay can be handled at home by the parents. However, any time one suspects dental problems in your baby or young child, see the dentist or speak to the pediatrician. Regular checkups with a dentist can begin around the age of three years.
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