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Helping your child’s smile shine

February is Children’s Dental Health Month. What better time to help ensure that your child’s smile shines brightly for years to come? Here’s some useful tips for protecting your child’s teeth from infancy on.

Get an early start!

Your child’s dental care routine should begin before his or her first tooth arrives. Even though kids eventually lose them, baby teeth are an important part of ensuring that your child’s mouth stays healthy. For instance, baby teeth maintain space for permanent teeth and help prevent crowding in the mouth later. Baby teeth also help kids learn to speak, eat and smile!

Baby teeth usually begin to appear at about six months, although some children might be a year or older before they get their first tooth. The American Dental Association offers these tips to help you keep your child’s teeth and gums healthy.

  • Before your child’s teeth begin to appear, wipe your child’s gums with either a soft, moist washcloth or gauze pad.
  • Brush your child’s teeth with a toothbrush specifically sized for children.
  • Use only a small amount of fluoride toothpaste, no larger than the size of a pea for kids age 3 to 6 and no larger than a grain of rice for younger children.
  • Brush your child’s teeth twice daily: once in the morning and once at night.
  • Once your child has at least two teeth next to each other, clean between them daily.
  • When you’re confident that your children can brush their own teeth, supervise their technique and make sure they use the appropriate amount of toothpaste — and spit it out when they finish.
  • Avoid baby bottle tooth decay by filling bottles with only formula, milk or breast milk rather than juice or soft drinks. Immediately before going to bed, your child should drink only plain water.

Visit the dentist

Again, the earlier the better. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that you take your child to the dentist for the first time by his or her first birthday, or within six months of a first tooth. During your visit, you can expect the dentist to do the following:

  • Examine your child’s teeth for decay
  • Ensure that your child’s jaw and teeth are developing properly
  • Clean your child’s teeth
  • Explain how to take care of your child's teeth
  • Answer any questions and address any concerns you have

To help ensure the first visit goes smoothly, here are some tips to prepare:

  • Before the appointment, try “playing dentist" with your young child so he or she knows what to expect during the visit.
  • For older children, explain what a dentist does and what to expect during the visit, and answer their questions honestly.
  • Try to schedule a mid-morning appointment so your child is well-rested and alert; avoid appointments close to naptime.
  • Make sure your children have something to eat beforehand so they won’t be hungry and cranky during the visit.
  • Let the dentist know what to expect if you child tends to become anxious or difficult in unfamiliar situations.
  • Stay calm and positive, even if you have dental phobia.


Provide a mouth-friendly diet

One of the best ways to protect your child’s teeth and gums is to provide a healthy, balanced diet. Foods rich in calcium, for instance, help build strong teeth. Beans, nuts, and green vegetables such as kale and spinach are loaded with calcium. What’s more, there’s evidence that calcium-rich dairy foods such as cheese can inhibit the effects of tooth-decaying acids.

And don’t forget to make sure your child drinks plenty of water. The American Dental Association’s Fluoridation Facts booklet notes that studies have consistently demonstrated that water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by more than 25% in children.

If your community doesn’t provide fluoridated water, ask your dentist about fluoride supplements, such tablets, drops or gels, and topical fluoride varnishes, which are applied to your child’s teeth at the dentist’s office.

With an early start on oral care, consistent visits to the dentist and a healthy, mouth-friendly diet, you can help ensure that you child is well on the way to a lifetime of strong teeth, healthy gums and dazzling smiles.