We addressed teething last month, but knowing when to expect those first chompers is only the beginning. Caring for your young one’s teeth is critical to ensuring their health and instilling good habits. With that in mind, we thought we’d share some tips on navigating the waters of pediatric oral hygiene!
Don’t wait to start cleaning. Keeping your baby’s mouth clean should start before teeth even appear - a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth does wonders for the gums. As soon as that first tooth pokes through, begin twice daily (at least!) brushing.
Use the right stuff.
- Toothpaste - until age 3, you should be using a smear of fluoride toothpaste no larger than a grain of rice. From about 3 to 6 that should only increase to the size of a pea. If your child is not yet able to effectively spit, have them tilt their mouth down so the paste dribbles out into a cup or the sink to limit consumption.
- Soft bristled toothbrush - you want something very soft and age appropriate - children’s brushes are sold with recommended age ranges listed, so they should be easy to spot. If small hands still have a hard time grabbing, find a brush with a larger handle, stick the handle inside a tennis ball or try attaching the brush to them with a hairband.
- Floss - you should begin flossing for your little one as soon as they have two teeth that touch. Continue flossing daily and going over techniques with them until they are competent with the floss and can handle going it alone.
- Rinses - until you’re certain that they’ll be able to swish and spit a rinse without swallowing, these are best avoided. Once they have that skill down pat - usually around age 7 - a fluoride rinse twice a day under close supervision is a great habit to encourage.
Keep it fun! Sing a song (two rounds of “Happy Birthday” is about the length of time your little one should be brushing), do a dance - keep them engaged! Once your child is old enough, letting them pick out their own toothbrush and toothpaste from a pre-approved selection can get them more invested, and brushing your teeth when they brush theirs makes it feel like a fun family event. As soon as they can hold and manipulate a brush, encouraging them to brush themselves is a great way to instill a sense of ownership - just be sure to double check their work and help them hit areas they’ve missed.
Be aware of those thumbs and pacifiers. Sucking on thumbs, pacifiers, etc. is a well established natural reflex in young children, and can be important to a child’s development and their sense of well being. It’s important to curb the habit before they get too old, however - in kids over 3, sucking habits can have detrimental effects on their bite and can promote tooth decay.
Watch out for sugar. Really now, when don’t we advocate keeping the sugar intake to a minimum? Teeth and sugar just don’t get along, and baby teeth are no different. Make sure you’re cleaning your child’s mouth after every meal, limiting sugary drinks during the day and after brushing at night (that includes milk at bedtime!) and not dipping their pacifiers in anything sweet.
Get that baby to the dentist! It should happen sooner than you might think - we recommend that the first visit occur by the age of two years old, for sure no later than three. That first visit is really more of a meet and greet - designed to make your child feel comfortable and pave the road for successful future visits. They can sit in the big chair with mom or dad, meet the hygienist and doctor, and go through as much of an examination as they’ll sit through - ideally looking in the mouth, assessing the tissue and counting teeth. As your child grows your provider will do more and more until they are getting a full blown cleaning every 6 months.