I still remember how my mother managed to instil in me the importance of good oral hygiene from a very young age. Teaching dental health care practices to young children is an investment that will pay dividends lifelong.
Ideally, dental care should start as soon as the first tooth erupts, and the first visit to the dentist should be around the first birthday. By the time children turn 3 years old, they should begin brushing their teeth once a day. And by the time they are 4, they should be brushing twice a day.
Encourage your child to begin brushing by giving him a soft toothbrush and pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste. If possible, during the initial stages, you can brush along with him to make him imitate you and learn proper brushing techniques. Once your child turns 6, you can change him over to regular fluoride toothpaste. However, parental supervision is recommended until children are at least 8 years old to help them learn how to brush their teeth the right way.
Let’s look at some magic mantras to help you take care of your child’s teeth and inculcate good dental care habits in her as well:
- Remember, there is no substitute to brushing and flossing; so, never compromise on brushing twice daily. Explain to your child why it is important to brush in the morning and before going to bed for oral health.
- Emphasise to your child the importance of gently cleaning his tongue with the brush at the end of the brushing routine.
- Make your child brush after having foods that stick to the teeth like biscuits, chips, namkeen or candies. But when it is not possible to do so, give him a fibrous fruit like an apple or orange to eat. Also, inculcate the habit of rinsing the mouth with water after having lunch and snacks to help wash away the residual food particles.
- Avoid filling sippers and bottles with sweetened milk and juices, especially before bedtime as this increases the chances of developing caries. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that babies should never be allowed to sleep with anything but a bottle of water.
- Make sure he gets enough fluoride. Regular supply of fluoride toughens the enamel and protects it from being attacked by acid in the mouth. But remember, ingestion of excess fluoride through drinking water can cause tooth discolouration.
- Misaligned teeth can cause embarrassment to the child and hinder the maintenance of good oral hygiene. A visit to an orthodontist early on can fix this problem and help the child lead a normal life.
- Take your child to the dentist for bi-annual check-ups followed by dental cleaning and fluoride treatments, and pit and fissure treatments. In case a check-up reveals caries, the dentist can use sealants as a non-invasive measure to stop the build-up of plaque in the grooves of the teeth and prevent further decay. Applying sealants is a quick and painless process.
- Limit or avoid giving starchy or sugary foods to your child as they contribute to the production of acids in the mouth that cause tooth decay. Give him citrus fruits like orange, apple and kiwi, which are rich in Vitamin C. Also give him cheese, which is a good source of calcium and phosphorous, and raw onions, which have great bacteria killing properties.
Although there are many ways of teaching your child how to take care of his teeth, leading by example is the best way. And once your child begins to show interest and emulate you, find ways to make dental care fun and a regular habit.
But with all these tips on dental hygiene for kids, another very important advice is to love your child unconditionally and spend as much quality time as you can with her, as children grow up so fast that you wouldn’t even realise.
The author is a leading practicing dentist with a degree in Dental Medicine and Surgery.