Developing positive oral hygiene habits early in childhood is crucial in ensuring continued practice into adulthood. This means starting very early, even before your baby’s teeth have emerged.
It is important to be aware that primary tooth enamel is much thinner and less resistant to decay than permanent/adult teeth. The key to successful teeth brushing for young children is ensuring that they are accustomed to the experience of having their teeth and gums touched and cleaned as early on as possible.
Starting at birth, clean your child’s gums with a soft cloth and water. This early oral stimulation may help prevent fungal infections, such as oral thrush, and also makes acceptance of the toothbrush less of a challenge once the teeth start to erupt.
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), the American Dental Association (ADA), and the American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommend establishing a ‘Dental Home’ for your child by one year of age, with follow-up visits every six months. Although the first visit will not likely be much more than a quick examination, it will assist your child in becoming familiar with the process of having their teeth examined and will also allow the dentist to provide some helpful suggestions regarding oral healthcare. These examinations are also essential for early detection and/or interception of any problems.
Fostering an early independence in oral hygiene is important for your child’s development. Allowing your child to brush their own teeth is crucial; however, until a child is eight years of age, they will often not comprehend that teeth are three-dimensional objects. They may not understand that in order to properly clean a tooth, it must be brushed not only on the top side (chewing surface) but also the cheek side, tongue side, and in some cases the back side. It is great to let your child brush their own teeth at an early age, but it is paramount that this activity is closely supervised and that the parent goes over their brushing afterwards.
Prevention is key; the AAPD recommends using fluoridated toothpaste (ADA approved) as soon as the first teeth erupt. At the first glimpse of primary teeth, switch to a soft-bristled, age-appropriate toothbrush.
Use only a smear of fluoridated toothpaste. Gradually, as more baby teeth appear, you can increase the amount of toothpaste until you get to a ‘pea-sized’ drop once all 20 primary teeth are present. Early childhood tooth decay can start suddenly and spread very quickly; dentist visits every six months are therefore essential.
Brush your child’s teeth gently, but thoroughly, twice a day. The last brush of the day should be after your child’s last food or drink (other than water) and right before they are put to bed. This will ensure you significantly decrease or eliminate any food particles that cavity-causing bacteria feed on. These bacteria are especially active at night when a child is sleeping and their saliva production is minimal.
TOP TIP: Don’t let your children share their toothbrushes. Toothbrushes can harbour Streptococcus mutans, which is the bacteria responsible for tooth decay.
A child’s teeth should be flossed at least once a day, preferably before bed. It is important to thoroughly floss the teeth at any point where the teeth are touching each other. The tooth brush cannot adequately clean these areas which leaves them particularly susceptible to decay. There are devices such as ‘floss wands’ for kids that make this task easier and more of a fun activity for children.
The most common and serious cause of Early Childhood Caries (ECC) is frequent and long exposures of an infant’s teeth to liquids that contain sugars, both natural and artificial. Among these liquids are milk (including breast milk), formula, fruit juice, and other sweetened drinks. Putting a baby to bed for a nap or at night with a bottle other than water can cause serious and rapid tooth decay. These liquids pool around the teeth and feed the bacteria in the mouth, which in turn produce acids that attack tooth enamel. This type of destructive tooth decay is also known as Nursing Bottle Caries or Baby Bottle Tooth Decay.
TOP TIP: Not all toothpaste in Cayman contains fluoride so this is something you should check, either yourself or with your dentist. Toothpastes containing 1,000 and 1,500ppm of fluoride are most effective for over 3s. Children under 3 should brush twice daily with a smear of toothpaste containing at least 1,000ppm fluoride.
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