Keeping your child’s smile bright and healthy

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My little niece was in town for a visit this weekend. She is 13 months old and a delight to our family. Sunday morning, she walked around my parents’ house with a toothbrush in her hand that she refused to let go. She would stick the toothbrush in her mouth and grin that sweet, slobbery baby grin. But really trying to brush her teeth? Oh no, she would clamp her mouth closed and have none of that!

My eight-year-old son recently learned the hard way about the importance of taking good care of his teeth. He had his first cavity in December. He was a brave little guy though and had it filled without flinching. I, on the other hand, was anxious enough for both of us.

After his cavity experience, good dental hygiene has become a renewed priority around our house. We are working to increase the kids’ brushing time using toothbrushes with a light-up timer. They love their light-up toothbrushes and rarely fuss about how long they have to brush.

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month.

Here are a few tips for keeping your child’s smile bright and healthy for a lifetime.

(1) Start early.
It’s never too early to start caring for your child’s teeth. From the day a baby is born with those sweet toothless gums, it’s already time to start thinking about cleaning his or her mouth. Even before teeth appear, a baby’s gums should be cleaned regularly with a damp washcloth to clean away bacteria. Once those first teeth erupt, brush them with an infant toothbrush and once teeth touch it’s time to start flossing. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends using a tiny bit of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice for babies and a pea-sized amount for kids ages three and up.

(2) Schedule regular dental checkups.
Regular dental visits are an important part of dental health. The ADA recommends scheduling your child’s first dental visit after the first tooth appears or no later than his or her first birthday. Check with your family dentist about when to bring your child in for their first visit. Each of my children had their first dental checkup at age three, the age recommended by our family dentist.

To relieve any anxiety young children may have about visiting the dentist’s office, it may be helpful to role play a visit to the dentist at home. Pretend to be the patient and let your child examine your mouth and then switch roles. Practice opening wide as you count your child’s teeth. Reading books about visiting the dentist may also be helpful. Some good titles are The Berenstain Bears Visit The Dentist by Stan and Jan Berenstain, Curious George Visits The Dentist by Margret and H. A. Rey or Show Me Your Smile! (Dora the Explorer) by Christine Ricci.

(3) Make brushing fun.
Brushing twice a day can be a battle with young children who prefer to wiggle and squirm rather than stand still and brush. To make things more fun, make up a silly song to sing while you brush. Encourage your child to pretend to be an alligator or lion and open wide! Or, for children who can brush independently, brush alongside your child and make funny faces in the mirror together. A fun toothbrush with a favorite character’s picture is also a good motivator for a reluctant little mouth. There are several toothbrush timer apps that are free to download to help kids reach the two minute brushing time goal.

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