Dental health is important not only for adults but also for kids. In fact, starting good dental health habits early on plays an important role in overall health and wellbeing. Parents can learn how to teach toddlers and preschoolers about brushing their teeth and having healthy teeth in this two-part interview with Dr. Rhea Haugseth, a pediatric dentist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD).
UTH: First of all, thank you so much for talking to Untrained Housewife readers. Let us begin by discussing the need for dental health for kids, especially toddlers. Toddlers only have milk teeth that are going to fall off in any case, so why spend too much time brushing them?
Proper oral health is essential for infants as baby teeth are vulnerable to tooth decay as soon as they appear (usually between the ages of six and 12 months). Baby teeth (milk teeth) are important because they: hold space for permanent teeth, enable normal chewing, and allow for normal speech development. Children and toddlers with healthy mouths chew more easily and gain more nutrients from the foods they eat, which helps in the formation of the permanent teeth that are growing under the gums. When parents take an active role in taking care of their child’s oral health, the child has a lower risk of dental disease!
UTH: How can parents choose the right pediatric toothbrushes and toothpastes for their toddlers?
Parents can find toddler toothbrushes and toothpastes at local drug stores or “big box” retailers. Any soft toothbrush is acceptable – choose one your child likes and is more apt to use. Manual toothbrushes are easier at this age than the mechanical ones.
For infants, parents should use a soft toothbrush or cloth with water to clean babies’ mouths and gums, especially after feeding.
Once baby teeth appear, parents should purchase the appropriately sized toothbrush for their child. Make sure the brush you select has soft nylon bristles and is small enough to maneuver inside your child’s mouth.
Before age two, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends brushing with an age-appropriate toothbrush at least twice a day using a “thin smear” of fluoridated toothpaste. For two-to-five year olds, use a “pea-size” amount of fluoridated toothpaste.
Parents should always perform or assist children in tooth brushing until the child is around eight-years-old. Parents need to perform the flossing for their child until approximately eight-ten years of age.
UTH: What is the ideal age for a child to visit a dentist? Are there special kids’ dentists or can he go to a regular dentist?
The AAPD, American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) all recommend a dental visit for children by age one or as soon as the first tooth appears, to begin a lifelong preventive oral health care program and minimize tooth decay and cavities.
Pediatric dentists are specifically trained for children’s unique dental health needs. Their specialized practice includes treating infants, children, adolescents and those with special health care needs with an emphasis on child psychology, growth and development, disease prevention, sedation, hospital dentistry and care for those patients with special health care needs.
The first visit to the pediatric dentist will be educational for parents. This “well baby check” helps ensure that parents learn the tools they’ll need to help their child remain cavity free. Parents can expect the pediatric dentist to: demonstrate proper methods of tooth brushing and flossing, evaluate oral and facial development, discuss the ability to detect early tooth decay and dietary issues, determine fluoride needs and much more.
The Year One dental visit can actually save money. A study in the journal Pediatrics showed that children who have their first dental visit before age one have 40 percent lower dental costs in their first five years than children who do not, due to the cost of dental and medical procedures that may be necessary as a result of poor oral health.
Simple steps such as starting early, using the right toothbrush and visiting a dentist by age one will help you to instill good dental health habits in your child right from the beginning. Learn how to find the right pediatric dentist and get more tips on ensuring good oral health in the second part of this interview.
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