The Importance of Oral Hygiene During Childhood
When you’re a kid, brushing your teeth may seem like a hassle that your mom loves to nag you about. However, studies have shown that establishing good teeth hygiene habits early-on can have lifelong consequences on oral health. Without a good hygiene routine, children can suffer tooth decay and an impact on the development of adult canines.
Even before infants develop teeth, you can start teaching them the practice of good oral hygiene habits (such as wiping down gums with sterile gauze). By the time your children grow their infancy teeth, they will be used to an established dental routine. And with modern superheroes and funky colors and flavors of toothpaste, training your kids to brush their teeth regularly has never been easier.
Baby Teeth and Infant Hygiene
Infants are born with around 20 primary teeth, or baby teeth, which start to come in at around six months of age. This primary dentition stage, or eruption of the child’s first set of teeth, continues until about two and a half years old.
This stage is extremely important for setting the course for oral hygiene and healthy development, because primary teeth are essential to learning, speaking, and digestion. Primary teeth are more susceptible to cavities than permanent teeth because they have thinner enamel, or protective outer layer. Therefore, these teeth must be cared for appropriately starting from the moment they appear.
Establishing a good childhood routine includes proper oral hygiene practices and maintaining a healthy diet, consuming sugar in frequently. This is extremely important for healthy development of permanent teeth later in life. Additionally, children should visit a dentist by the time they turn one or two years old, and have annual check-ups.
A pediatric dentist will work to keep your child’s mouth clean, and prevent bacteria from growing. This in turn will minimize the chances of tooth decay, gum disease, or any other dental issues caused by improper oral care. A pediatric dentist will also have fun toys and rewards waiting at the office, to positively reinforce any office visits.
By the time children turn six, their baby teeth will begin to be replaced by 32 permanent teeth. While these teeth will develop to have a more dense, protective enamel surface, they remain sensitive to decay when they first erupt. This is because the enamel is not fully formed, and can be infected with bacteria lurking in carry-over baby teeth.
As a result, children must continue proper toothbrush and flossing habits diligently during this period, and parents are encouraged to maintain frequent visits to the dentist to help clean tooth plaque from the increasing number of surfaces in the mouth.
As children grow up into teenagers, they can be tough on their teeth. With increased distractions and busier schedules, teens may opt to skip brushing their teeth and flossing. They also tend to eat an increasingly unhealthy diet when increased independence and access to junk food.
Because of these reasons, teens tend to develop more cavities. It is important to continue to set a good example for your teens and show them how important it is to keep diligent care of their teeth. You can encourage your children to practice good oral habits for health reasons, but also because of aesthetics, a big motivation for teenagers.
Parents have an essential role in establishing good habits and routines early-on in childhood. They should brush their children’s teeth until about 2 years, and supervise until about 12 years old. This is important due to changing dentition through twelve years, and to establish proper dental techniques, such as brushing in a circular motion to prevent gum damage.
Also, preventative dentistry for children is extremely important, and can prevent issues with teething, decay, misalignment, and gum disease. Once children become teenagers, parents should continue to encourage oral hygiene, since school, sports, and diet can get in the way.
Parents can use fun tools to encourage tooth brushing twice a day, such as bringing a timer into the bathroom, or singing a song. You can also reinforce good habits by rewarding behaviors with a high-five, or a bedtime story.
But the most important way parents can do to encourage oral hygiene in their children is by setting a good example. Children learn behaviors and take social cues from their parents, so by showing your children that you take appropriate care of your teeth, you will teach them to do the same.
The number of dental care products on the market can be overwhelming. To help sift out the best products for you and your children, look for the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of acceptance for approved quality products.
There are several basic tools and products every person should use. These include a toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss. In addition, there are some other items that can be used occasionally or as prescribed by your dentist, including mouthwash, tongue scrapers, and oral irrigators.
For the basics, pick a toothbrush and toothpaste most appropriate for your child’s age. For instance, toddlers should use a toothbrush with a smaller head and softer bristles to protect their mouth. There are also dentist approved electric toothbrushes for children to clean the hard-to-reach places.
For toothpaste, select those that have fluoride, which strengthens tooth enamel and prevents decay. Dental floss is a must, as dentists recommend children start flossing once a day with erupted teeth. Waxed floss can help with tightly-spaced teeth, and fun flavors can help encourage children to floss daily.
Tips from the Dentist
Scheduling the First Trip to the Dentist
As soon as your child sprouts his or her first teeth, schedule the first dental appointment. To help with the first-visit jitters, bring along an older sibling to show your youngest around the space.
Preventing Tooth Decay in Infants
The sugars in milk can pool around infant teeth and cause cavities and decay around the gums. Dentists recommend not to allow babies to fall asleep while nursing and check for stains and spots along the gum line.
Pacifiers Instead of Thumbs
If your child sucks his or her thumb, it may lead to misaligned teeth and jaws. Give your infant a pacifier, which is shaped appropriately for their mouths. Then, coax them out of the habit gradually.
Larry Hayman is a freelance writer and has been a Certified Physician Assistant for over five years. He enjoys writing about new developments in medicine and discussing cutting edge research across a number of medical fields. In his free time, he hikes the mountains near his Montana home.