In a country where 80 percent of the population has some kind of gum disease, it's no wonder we dedicate an entire month to children's dental health. February is National Children's Dental Health Month.
When we think dental care, our minds quickly turn to the sink with brushing and flossing habits. We know to be mindful of sweet and sticky treats, but even from the time a child’s very first tooth comes in, before they're even eating solid food, hygienists say we need to be mindful of the dental dangers stemming from the kitchen, especially what we're drinking.
"We need to be very careful about juice consumption, milk consumption, making sure we're not giving them a bottle at bedtime, making sure they only have water before bed and that we're brushing their teeth before bed,” says Smile Station dental assistant Jamie Selby, who adds kids should have, at most, 4-6 ounces of juice a day to maintain good dental health.
It's common to dilute fruit juice, but one recent dental publication suggests it should be diluted 10 parts water to one-part juice.
Most everyone's brushing or flossing habits leave room for improvement. One of the most common questions when it comes to dental care is how early should we start seeing a dentist. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends making the call as soon as you spot your child's first tooth. It says children should have seen the dentist by the time they turn one, though this varies by dentist. Across the board, it's not recommended to hold out later than age 4.
"The younger they are, the easier it is sometimes for them ‘cause sometimes at age 4 they're more aware of their boundaries,” says Selby. “They're testing boundaries and questioning a lot of things so by age 4 sometimes it's harder for them to have a first visit, but it's never too late for them to come."
As far as establishing habits, Selby recommends being very careful about how we talk about the dentist. Build it up as a positive, helpful place rather than somewhere kids should dread going. They also suggest kid-friendly books and coloring sheets and keep up the positive energy. Images of scared children or shots would not be advised.
You know the rules, floss every day and brush for at least two minutes twice a day. Dental hygiene can be hard to teach. Before teeth even pop up, good dental habits begin by using a warm washcloth to regularly wipe down a child's gums. Once they're a little older you can look to their shoes to determine how prepared kids are to take care of their own teeth.
“We actually want parent-assisted brushing until they're between 6 or 8, until they can tie their own shoes in a double knot, button their own shirts, write their names in cursive, those are good indicators they can manipulate their toothbrush the way that they need to,” says Selby.
Dad Ishan Amin says his kids are always better about brushing just after they've seen the dentist. Those regular check-ups seem to drill in the message a little more. Their choice in toothbrush has helped.
"The whole family uses a Sonicare toothbrush and they work really well for us, you can really tell the difference.” The hygienist working on Ishan's children's teeth said she could tell the kids had been using Sonicares. They are pricey, but Consumer Reports says they're known to motivate children and the built-in timer helps.
Click here for the study on Olympians and oral health.