San Diego, CA – Good oral hygiene habits are learned, and the best place for children to learn is from their parents. By starting a positive routine early in your child’s life, you can set him up for a lifetime of healthy smiling.
“Children learn first from their parents, so it is important that you are modeling good oral habits for them to see,” says San Diego children’s dentist and orthodontist Dr. Santiago Surillo. “If you don’t make taking care of your teeth a priority, you may just be showing your children that they don’t need to take their teeth seriously, either.”
So what can parents do to help their children?
First, be sure you brush at least twice a day and floss daily. Seeing you keeping a regular dental routine will help your children see that it is important. Also, make sure you keep regular check-ups with your dentist and talk to your children about why it’s important to see the dentist. Then, begin healthy habits with your children as soon as possible.
Helping your children care for their teeth begins before you can even see their first tooth, and in fact, it even begins before your children are born. Primary teeth actually begin to form during about the sixth week of pregnancy, and then start to mineralize in the fourth month. An expectant mother should pay close attention to her diet to ensure the proper nutrients, especially calcium, phosphorous and protein, are able to reach the baby.
Once your child is born, it’s important to wipe the gums down after each feeding, even in the middle of the night. This will ensure the sugars found in breastmilk and formula aren’t left to penetrate the gums.
Once the first tooth appears, you should begin brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush and dentist recommended toothpaste.
Once the first tooth appears, or by the child’s first birthday, you should schedule an appointment with a pedodontist.
“Many people don’t realize that children should see a dentist for the first time by the age of one,” says Dr. Surillo. “This is important because we want to establish a relationship with the child as soon as we can. Early childhood caries are now the number one chronic childhood illness, overtaking even asthma, and we want to do everything we can to help prevent your child from experiencing dental decay. Beginning a relationship with a dentist at an early age can do just that.”
Starting a relationship with a dentist early not only helps ensure that your dentist can catch and treat issues before they become bigger problems, but it signals to your child that visiting the dentist is normal and important.
“Many people are afraid of the dentist,” says Dr. Surillo. “But if your child begins a relationship with us early on, they’ll realize there is nothing to fear, and together, we become a team to ensure the health of their mouth.”
It can help for parents to take their children to a pediatric dentist, rather than a general dentist. Pediatric dentists will often have offices that cater specifically to children, with furniture, toys, games, etc. that will help your child feel more relaxed and calm. A pediatric dentist will also have the special skills needed to work with children of all ages, even those who are very anxious about their visits.
Dr. Surillo offers the following additional tips for parents to help ensure their children have healthy teeth and gums:
- Ensure your child has adequate fluoride intake. Use fluoridated water, and a fluoride toothpaste. Never introduce additional fluoride unless advised by your dentist, however.
- Ensure your children eat a healthy and varied diet. You know the saying “you are what you eat,” and a healthy diet keeps your teeth and body healthy. Ensure your children eat a rich diet high in minerals such as calcium and protein.
- Say no to sugar. A little treat every now and then is fine, but don’t let your children overindulge in sugary treats and beverages. Make sure they drink plenty of water throughout the day, and if you give them juice, try to limit it to only at mealtimes when there is plenty of saliva to wash away the sugars.
- Never let your child go to sleep with a bottle of sippy cup. This allows the sugars from their drink to pool in their mouths, increasing their risk for decay.
- Don’t share your fear of the dentist. We know fear of the dentist is very common, and many adults are anxious about sitting in our chairs. But even if you fall into that category, don’t pass that fear on. Encourage them to ask questions and talk about any fears or concerns they have. And don’t hesitate to bring them in for a get to know you visit – we’re happy to meet with your child and simply talk before we ever do an exam.
Ensuring a healthy smile starts at home. When you model good behavior, chances are great that your children will pick up on it. So if your dental health is a priority for you, you can pass that on to your children and encourage a healthy smile for life.