Instilling good dental hygiene habits in children can be vital to ensuring they grow up taking care of their teeth. It is also important for parents to make and keep dental appointments for their children to monitor them as their teeth grow in.
Drs. Rachel Rosen and Laura Adelman, pediatric dentists at Great Beginnings Pediatric Dentistry in Twinsburg, and Dr. Akiva Berger, owner and general dentist at Akiva R. Berger, DDS in Beachwood, discussed best practices for teaching kids healthy habits and gave advice on when to start taking children to the dentist.
“Cavities in baby teeth can spread to adult teeth,” Rosen and Adelman said.
They explained that baby teeth are more vulnerable than adult teeth because their outer layer, enamel, is thinner.
“As a result, cavities can progress at a faster rate in baby teeth and a higher cavity rate in baby teeth is indicative of a higher cavity rate in adult teeth,” they said. “Also, even though baby teeth eventually fall out, they play a critical role in your child’s oral health and development. Indeed, they guide the growth of adult teeth and maintain proper spacing.”
Therefore, it is important to make sure baby teeth stay healthy and in place until they fall out naturally, Rosen and Adelman said.
They recommended parents “brush” their babies’ gums with a damp washcloth before any teeth erupt and, when they do start to erupt, they should begin flossing as soon as two baby teeth begin to touch.
Children should not be left to brush or floss alone until they can independently tie their shoes and write their names in cursive, they suggested.
“Until then, parents should supervise and help children brush and floss to ensure no areas are missed and that the child doesn’t brush too hard or forget to brush at all,” they advised.
Making children want to practice good dental hygiene can be done by making the experience fun. There are toys to achieve this, such as the Gund Brush Your Teeth Teddy Bear, they said. The bear plays music and brushes its teeth for two minutes, giving young kids a companion they will look forward to brushing their teeth with.
Older children, they said, enjoy electric toothbrushes that connect to apps which track their brushing and award digital prizes for brushing the full two minutes each day.
“Older kids, and even teens, find it enjoyable to use a free brushing app like Brush DJ that allows them to select their favorite song to turn into a two-minute brushing song,” they pointed out.
Parents may also consider using food coloring and a cotton swab to apply to the plaque on their children’s teeth, then challenge the children to brush until all of the color disappears, Rosen and Adelman said. They may also use sticker charts or special toys that only come out when it’s time to brush so children look forward to brushing, rather than resisting it.
“In recent years, dentists have observed a proliferation of dental caries–cavities–in our pediatric and adolescent patients, extending even to toddlers and infants,” Berger said.
He explained that this trend can be reversed if children learn good oral hygiene at a young age and continue those practices regularly throughout their lifetimes.
Berger recommended parents start teaching their children to brush their teeth as soon as they are able. Brushing with the help of a parent, and eventually brushing on their own with a parent “taking a turn” to ensure their teeth have been brushed thoroughly, may be helpful.
“By the time a child is in grade school, he or she should be able to brush independently and even begin to learn proper flossing technique,” he noted.
He suggested using music and characters that a child likes to make them excited to brush their teeth.
“Try playing a two-minute song and challenge the child to maintain brushing for the entire length of the music,” Berger said. “Purchase a toothbrush with the child’s favorite character. Make brushing and flossing a nighttime routine before the child gets their bedtime story.”