Dental hygiene should be taught at a young age in order to ensure good oral health throughout life. Studies prove that maintaining a healthy mouth is beneficial to a child’s overall health. Parents and teachers should promote dental hygiene habits in the classroom and at home. This includes educating children about which practices to embrace and which to avoid.
What’s the appropriate age to start taking care of your child’s oral health? Some dentists advise to begin at infancy. Even before a baby develops teeth, parents should use water and gauze to gently massage and clean their baby’s gums. Once the baby grows a couple of teeth, parents can use a soft, gentle toothbrush and water to brush the child’s teeth. Both should take place before bedtime and after eating, or bottle/breast-feeding.
Dental problems can begin in the first year of a child’s life if proper care is not taken. The first visit to the pedodontist should happen at age 1. Parents should begin teaching their children to brush the following year, at age 2. Children around this age should use a tiny, pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste on their baby teeth. Most children begin to acquire permanent teeth at approximately 6 ½ years old, the suitable age when children should be brushing their teeth on their own. All the while, children of this age group should be learning and forming proper dental hygienic habits as well.
Appropriate oral health practices to teach your children:
1. Brush twice a day for two full minutes with a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste. Brushing in the evening, just before bedtime, is essential. If a child consumes a something with high sugar content, convince them to drink water and brush afterward.
2. Floss safely and correctly. This can be taught at home through repeated demonstrations. (See our how to floss section.)
3. Visit your pedodontist or family dentist regularly. Maintaining a healthy mouth requires more than home care; dental professionals have the knowledge and skills to perform certain procedures, provide advice, and more.
4. Drink a lot of water each day.
5. Healthy snacking. Eat snacks with high amounts of calcium to support strong teeth.
Habits that will compromise children’s oral health:
1. Thumb sucking leads to the mobilization of cavity-growth because bacteria on the thumb or other fingers can be transferred to the mouth. It can also cause structural deformities.
2. Consuming too much candy and sweets also stimulates the growth of cavities by wearing down tooth enamel.
3. Sharing cups, spoons and other utensils may lead to cavity growth as well. As Dr. Smigel warns, cavities are contagious. Cavity-causing bacteria known as Streptococcus mutans are shared through saliva.
Guidelines to help your children learn and practice proper oral care:
1. Visual aids. A good idea is to use a poster or whiteboard calendar as a checklist for your child to fill out in the mornings and evenings after brushing. This will help you both keep track of your child’s progress.
2. Games. Parents can encourage good dental hygiene through use of educational games such as crossword puzzles and word searches. Implementing words such as teeth, plaque, hygiene, toothpaste, toothbrush, fluoride and so forth will reinforce knowledge for later recall.
3. Art and Creativity. Provide your child a dental coloring book. This way they can enjoy and respect learning about teeth. Another clever way to inspire good oral health practices is to have them create something personal, perhaps a self-portrait showcasing their smile along with a line or two about what makes a bright, shiny smile, to reinforce these good behaviors.