By Dr. Shelia Shah
When your child’s teeth begin erupting between 3 and 16 months (usually around 6 months), clean them by wiping with a moist washcloth.
A first dental visit used to be recommended at 3 years of age. However, because so many children have cavities by the time they start kindergarten, it is now recommended that children see a dentist 6 months after their first tooth erupts, or before they are 1 year old.
Until the age of 2, it’s okay to use a soft brush with only water to clean your child’s teeth. Then, as your child grows, teach them and help them develop good oral habits that will last a lifetime.
One of the best ways to help your child learn about the importance of their own dental care is to start by setting an example. Taking good care of your own teeth sends a message that children will notice. Encourage proper oral care by brushing your teeth along with your child. Let them choose their own toothbrush and find ways to make the activity enjoyable. Here are some ideas:
• Go Smile Shopping. Let your child shop for a toothbrush for themselves and a favorite stuffed animal or doll. Once home, let your child “teach” their toy how to brush their teeth, by demonstrating on their own teeth – with you aiding and teaching along the way.
• Do a Dental Dance. Instead of setting a timer, play a favorite song to which your child can dance along while they brush. Make it a dance party – brush your teeth and dance along with them too!
• Countdown to Clean. Number each tooth and celebrate or cheer when each one is cleaned. With excitement in your voice, say things like, “Yay! Tooth number nine is looking fine!” or “Tooth number four is now so clean it shines!” Count forward for smaller children to help them learn their numbers, but backward for older kids who will appreciate the challenge.
• Play Dental Dress-up. Let your child create and wear a costume (this can be as simple or as detailed as you wish to make it), helping them transform into a “dentist.” Once they’re ready for the role, let them be your dentist and brush your teeth. Sure, it may get a bit messy, but everything washes, and you’ll make special memories to cherish as well as help them learn.
• Make it a Mission. Let your child be the superhero that can save the day by brushing away all the “bad gingivitis villains.” Make up a superhero name and use sounds like “Zap! Pow!” or other such words before “attacking” each tooth. Once the entire mission is accomplished, make a quick cape from a towel and sing a superhero success jingle while they “fly” off toward the next task of the day.
Whether it’s by starting a sticker rewards chart or just saying, “I’m so proud of you,” remember that your praise of your kids can go a long way in encouraging their behaviors and attitudes.
Similarly, bad experiences can linger in the minds of kids. When teaching, avoid things like holding your child down to brush their teeth. Such a maneuver is only guaranteed to make them hate brushing.
If it’s too difficult, consider skipping toothpaste until they become more receptive to simply brushing. Don’t prolong the task. Children have limited attention spans. Keep it short and fun!
Reduce your child’s risk of getting cavities and protect their teeth and gums by teaching them the following:
• Brush twice a day with ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste to remove plaque (the sticky film on teeth) which is the main cause of tooth decay.
• Eat a well-balanced diet and limit starchy or sugary foods which produce plaque acids that cause tooth decay.
• Remove plaque between your teeth and under the gum line by flossing daily. Parents should begin assisting children at the age of 4 with flossing, but most kids by the age of 8 can floss on their own. Flossing removes plaque before it can harden into tartar which can only be removed with professional cleaning once it forms.
• Visit your dentist for regular checkups.
–– Dr. Sheila Shah, DMD, LLC, welcomes children and adults to her dental practice, offering Laser, Cosmetic, and General Dentistry at MaconSmiles, located in Macon, GA. She is a 1995 graduate of the Dental College at Augusta University and is committed to staying on the cutting edge of advancements in the field of dentistry. To schedule a complimentary dental consultation with Dr. Shah for your child during Children’s Dental Health Month (February), you may contact her office via www.MaconSmiles.com.