Kids' Dental Care: Importance & When To Start Going To Dentist

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Giving importance to child dental care from a young age sets the foundation for good oral health and overall wellbeing. Good dental hygiene helps children have stronger and healthier teeth throughout their lives. With proper support and encouragement, children can adopt good oral hygiene habits, ensuring they remain free from dental issues such as cavities and gum infections.

Read this post to learn more about the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene in children and ways to inculcate these habits in them.

When To Take A Child To Dentist?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children get their first dental checkup by their first birthday (1). An early dental visit helps nip the problem in the bud. Furthermore, the dentist will guide you on maintaining proper oral care depending on your child’s needs. It also helps acquaint the child with the dentist and eliminate the fear of dental visits.

You should contact the dentist in case your child (1)

  • Complains of a toothache
  • Shows signs of discoloration (brownish-blackish discoloration, pus, etc.)
  • Experiences swollen gums or cheeks
  • Injures their teeth from a fall

It may help to remember that if a child loses a permanent tooth, it should be submerged in milk, coconut water, or a save-a-tooth solution and taken to the nearest pediatric dentist at the earliest. If the tooth is still viable, it can be reattached ( 2).

Importance Of Dental Hygiene For Children

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), dental decay is the most common dental problem among preschoolers. Statistics show (3)

  • One in ten two-year-olds has one or more cavities.
  • 28% of children have one or more cavities by three years of age.
  • Almost 50% of children have one or more decayed teeth by five years of age.

Parents have a common misconception that dental decay in deciduous teeth is not a cause of concern as they are temporary. However, dental decay and loss of deciduous teeth can also negatively impact the health, eruption, and positioning of permanent teeth, leading to dental problems in the future.

Tips To Keep Your Child’s Teeth Healthy

The following tips can help you maintain your child’s oral hygiene(1) (4).

  1. Brush their teeth twice a day
  1. Use a non-fluoride toothpaste until your child learns how to spit toothpaste out
  1. Encourage flossing as their teeth begin to touch each other
  1. For children under the age of three, use toothpaste the size of a grain of rice. Alternatively, for children above three, use a pea-sized amount
  1. If your child wants to clean their teeth themselves, supervise them until they are about eight years old to ensure they clean all the areas well (5).
  1. Encourage your child to rinse their mouth with water after lunch and snacks as it helps wash away any food
  1. Avoid putting them to bed with a milk bottle in their mouth to prevent nursing bottle caries or upper front teeth decay.
  1. Whenever your child is thirsty, offer them fluoridated water. Soda, juice, sports drinks, and other sugary drinks can not replace water.
  1. Fluoride plays a highly important role in pediatric dental health and reduces the risk of cavities by hardening the tooth enamel. Most children get the required fluoride from drinking water, and some dentists may also apply fluoride varnish on children’s teeth during dental appointments.
  1. Ensure that your child does not swallow fluoride-rich toothpaste or mouthwash as too much fluoride could lead to brown-black spots and pits on the future permanent teeth, make them brittle, and may also be harmful to the body.
  1. Pit and fissure sealants are protective resin coatings applied to the biting surface of the back teeth to form a barrier. It, therefore, prevents food and bacteria from entering the tiny grooves of the teeth (6). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Dental Academy Center for Evidence-Based Dentistry, sealants reduce the risk of decay in molars by almost 80% (4).
  1. Avoid sharing spoons and forks with your child during mealtimes to prevent germs from entering your child’s mouth. Likewise, when a pacifier falls from your baby’s hands or mouth, clean it before giving it back to the child.
  1. Children who consume many sugary foods and drinks are at an increased risk of developing dental decay. Hence, limit sugary snacks between meals, and ask the child to brush their teeth after consuming anything sugary.
  1. Older children may safely use sugarless chewing gums as they help strengthen the jaws, produce saliva, pick out bits of food, freshen the breath, and balance the acid that may lead to tooth decay.
  1. If your child plays sports, they should wear a mouthguard—a soft, plastic retainer that covers the teeth and, at times, the lips—to protect their mouth from injuries.

Tips To Make Dental Hygiene Fun For Children

The following tips may help your child be willfully involved in oral hygiene maintenance (1):

  • Let the child pick their choice of toothbrush in their favorite color.
  • Let the child pick a toothpaste of their choice of flavor.
  • Read books to them that talk about dental hygiene.
  • Use a timer or play their favorite song to ensure they brush for two minutes.
  • Use stickers, stars, or apple slices as rewards for good oral care.

Toothbrushing Technique For Children

There are various effective ways of brushing teeth. The best brushing technique for your child depends on the teeth position and gum condition. Thus, your child’s pediatrician or pediatric dentist can help you decide the right brushing technique for them.

Most healthcare providers recommend following a circular brushing technique twice a day (7):

  • Hold the toothbrush at a 45° angle adjacent to the teeth.
  • Brush only a few teeth at a time in a circular or elliptical motion. Continue doing the same until the entire mouth is covered.
  • Gently brush the outer, inner, and chewing surfaces of the teeth.
  • Following, brush the tongue to remove bacteria and eliminate bad odor.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What happens if a child doesn’t brush their teeth?

Brushing teeth twice a day is crucial for good dental hygiene. Not brushing teeth could lead to plaque and tartar build-up on the teeth that might aggravate cavities (8).

2. How often should a child go to the dentist?

A child’s first dental visit should be before the 12th month or within six months after the first tooth erupts. After that, your child must visit the dentist every six months. You could also schedule a visit every three months to ensure your child’s dental hygiene is closely monitored (9).

Effective oral hygiene maintenance is essential to prevent decay. Dental checkups at least twice a year and regular toothbrushing and flossing can help prevent most issues related to teeth and the surrounding structures.

Key Pointers

  • A child should visit a dentist frequently as they may develop cavities.
  • They must also follow good dental hygiene practices like brushing teeth twice a day, flossing, and rinsing the mouth after consuming food.
  • Teach them the most recommended circular brushing technique.
  • You can make this routine fun by letting them pick the toothpaste or playing their favorite songs during brushing time.

References:

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Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a certified lactation counsellor from iNational Health Care Academy, Singapore and a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. She did her graduation in Dentistry from KM Shah Dental College. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate... more

Dr. Ashveeta Shetty

( MDS)
Dr. Ashveeta Shetty is an assistant professor at DY Patil School of Dentistry and also runs her own dental clinic in Mumbai. Having done her Master of Dental Surgery (MDS) in Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry from Terna Dental College, she is currently pursuing her PhD. She has several national and international publications to her credit.    Dr. Shetty believes in... more

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