Oral Hygiene and Health for Children
Keeping track of your child’s health can be a difficult task—especially when it’s just one of the many responsibilities that come with parenting. Luckily, there are some general guidelines you can follow to protect and strengthen your child’s health and wellbeing.
What is Oral Hygiene?
Good oral health practices can be practiced during all stages of development for your child. Oral hygiene, however, is specifically defined as the practice of keeping the mouth clean and healthy by brushing and flossing to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.
Why is Developing Good Oral Health So Important?
Did you know that the most common chronic disease in infants and young children is dental caries? In fact, it’s actually five times more prevalent than asthma. Dental caries is a disease that damages the structure of the teeth, and this damage often results in tooth decay or cavities. The practice of good oral hygiene is essential in preventing early childhood caries.
Developing good oral hygiene is also the first line of defense against common dental problems such as plaque, tooth decay, gum disease, and halitosis.
- Plaque is a white-ish substance that develops and clings to the teeth when food is mixed with bacteria and saliva. Good oral hygiene helps to loosen and remove plaque.
- Tooth decay occurs when small holes, or cavities, form in the tooth. Plaque is the main culprit of tooth decay, especially when sugar comes in contact with the bacteria in your mouth. Keeping the teeth clear of plaque prevents the occurrence of tooth decay.
- Gum disease is an infection or inflammation of the gums surrounding the teeth. Unhealthy gums are exposed to plaque and can cause an inflammation called gingivitis. Ridding the teeth of plaque will help guard against gum disease.
- Halitosis is the technical term for bad breath. It is caused by the unhealthy build up of plaque and the inflammation or infection of the gums. Keeping the gums and teeth clean will help to alleviate this condition.
Teaching your child good oral hygiene techniques is important for their oral health, and if good oral hygiene is practiced from an early age, children who are old enough to grasp the toothbrush on their own will more likely be responsible for their own brushing.
What are the suggested practices during the various stages of infant oral health?
From birth to three months of age, good oral health is primarily related to nutrition. Breastfeeding is the preferred source of infant nutrition, but if your baby is using a bottle at all, it should only hold formula or breast milk at this age. You should also clean your infant’s gums with a water-soaked washcloth; this is a healthy way to stimulate gum tissue and remove food even before your child begins teething.
From four months to six months of age, your child may begin teething. Teething symptoms include fussiness, increased sucking behavior, and loose stools. This can be a tough hurdle for babies and parents, but there are some tactics you may use to ease discomfort for your child during this time. Give your baby a cold teething ring or washcloth to suck on, gently rub the gums, and offer soothing comfort. Infant Tylenol can be given for teething pain, but be sure to check with your pediatrician first.
When your baby turns six months, ask your doctor about fluoride. Some local jurisdictions such as Fairfax County, have fluoride added to the public water system. If not, your child can be given regular fluoride treatments in the form of supplements. Fluoride is one of the most useful tools in the prevention of dental decay and early childhood caries, so it is important to check with your dentist to see what your fluoride guidelines are in your area. During this time period, parents should begin brushing their child's teeth from behind while gently supporting the child's head. This routine should be practiced twice a day using a small soft brush and a small dab of toothpaste.
Another important step for babies at six months is the introduction of a sippy cup in preparation for weaning from the bottle or breast. During this time, drinks should be limited to water and plain milk to cut down on sugar. All children—but especially those at this young age—do not need juice or fruit drinks in their diet.
By the time your baby turns one, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that all children see a dentist. During the dental screening, your child’s teeth should be examined for white spots, cavities and any defects.
The messages you give your child about dental care should be consistent by the time your child is fifteen months of age. In addition, every child at this age should have an established source of dental care.
As a parent, your practice of dental care (blushing, flossing, etc. FOR for your child) should continue constantly until your child has learned proper oral hygiene techniques. This can usually be taught around the age of two, but every child is different.
What is considered good oral hygiene for children of two years of age and older?
Oral hygiene should be reinforced for every child from two years of age and beyond, and parental assistance with tooth brushing should continue until eight years of age. Good oral hygiene means thoroughly cleaning your mouth at least once a day. Your child’s daily routine should include:
- Brushing his or her teeth. A child should brush his or her teeth for two full minutes with fluoride toothpaste. Consider putting a kitchen timer on the sink so they learn how long two minutes is (this can be helpful for parents, too!) Also, remember to replace your child’s toothbrush every three months.
- Flossing after every brushing. The practice of flossing is helpful in keeping your child’s mouth free from bacteria.
- Rinsing your mouth with antiseptic mouthwash. In addition to getting rid of small pieces of debris, rinsing is a great way to keep your child’s gums healthy. Choose a mouthwash without high levels of alcohol.
Another important aspect of oral hygiene is making sure your child’s mouth stays clear of anything containing germs including his or her hands or toys. It is also a good idea to encourage your child not to share food or drinks with other children at school.
The Difficulty of Encouraging Good Oral Hygiene for Your Child
Although encouraging great oral hygiene for kids can be a difficult task, here are a few things that might help:
- A Good Role Model. One of the best ways to teach your child anything is to do it yourself. Plan to brush your teeth, floss and rinse in front of your child at least once a day so they can learn by example.
- Electric and Musical Toothbrushes. Electric toothbrushes are extremely fun for your child, and the musical toothbrushes play for the recommended two minute duration encouraging your child to keep brushing for the optimal time.
- Fun Dental Floss Holder. Your child may be more encouraged to break off a piece of floss if they are pulling it out of a floss container in the shape of a car or dolphin. Many dentists also recommend one-time flossers, which come in fun shapes and are easier for children to hold in their own mouths.
- Interactive Mouthwash. Some mouthwashes have the ability to stain the plaque in your child’s mouth with a certain color that helps highlight the spots they may have missed brushing. What a fun way to promote proper brushing!
Importance of the Dentist
Although you can promote good oral hygiene for your child, a visit to the dentist every six months is a must. Your dental hygienist will be able to recommend cleaning techniques and products for your family, clean plaque and tarter from your child’s teeth, administer fluoride treatments, x-ray your child’s teeth, and finally remind your child about the importance of proper oral hygiene.
Dealing with Dentist Visit Anxieties
It’s common for children to be apprehensive about visits to the dentist—many adults are too! Be sure to allow and encourage your child to discuss any fears he or she might have about oral health visits. Try not to mention the words hurt or pain, because saying “it won’t hurt” instills the possibility of pain in your child’s mind. You might also consider scheduling your own appointment earlier and having your child come along to watch. They’ll have a chance to see what happens during a dental visit and observe your behavior throughout the appointment.
It may also be helpful to remind your child about the fun parts of dental visits like getting a new toothbrush and goodies from the dentist, playing with toys, and exploring the new chair and tools. Finally, practicing at home can make your oral health visit go more smoothly. You and your child can count his or her teeth and act out a pretend dental visit in preparation for the upcoming appointment.
Overall Health Tips
Oral health is just one facet of caring for your child’s health—there are many other ways parents can make sure their child is healthy and happy:
- Schedule an annual physical examination for your child. Routine tests can be beneficial in catching potential problems early, but more likely a yearly visit to the pediatrician will be beneficial in improving your patient-doctor relationship as well as alleviate your worries as a parent.
- Get your child vaccinated! Vaccinations are both easy and inexpensive. Furthermore, immunizations are extremely important in keeping both your child and the community safe.
- Give your medicine cabinet an annual checkup. Items that should be re-stocked include Tylenol, a decongestant, a thermometer, antibacterial ointment, and a first-aid kit. Also, make sure to safely throw out those prescription or over-the-counter drugs that have expired.
- Start your day off with breakfast. In addition to giving your child a boost of energy needed for the day, it can also help your child perform better in school.
- Eat More Grains, Fruits and Vegetables. These types of food are vital in providing your child with energy, fiber, and the necessary vitamins and minerals needed for healthy living.
- Get Moving! 30 minutes of daily physical exercise can have many benefits including improving your child’s mood and promoting better sleep.
- Get Your ZZZ’s. Lack of sleep is becoming a major health concern for children, and is having a serious impact on general health and school performance. Make sure your child is getting the appropriate amount for his or her age. In general, at least 14 hours (including naps) for infants up to age 1; at least 12 hours from 1 to 3; and at least 10-11 for children ages 3 through 10.
As a parent, you have the power—and the responsibility—to positively impact your child’s health. By understanding the basics and using the guidelines we’ve discussed today, you can start making a difference in your child’s health today. Keep in mind that promoting healthy practices and good oral hygiene is not only a great way to keep your child healthy, but a great way to show you are and stay involved in your child’s life!
And remember, all aspects of parenting can be tough, but asking for help doesn’t have to be. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! For more information about your child’s general and oral health or other parenting challenges, visit the SCAN website at www.scanva.org.